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Holiday Used as Political Pulpit

Rallies: Exhorting union members and activists to support their platforms, public officials speak at area Labor Day events.

September 03, 2002|TINA DAUNT and DUKE HELFAND | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The Rev. Jesse Jackson used the platform to blast President Bush for his administration's push for war against Iraq. Gov. Gray Davis stepped onstage to urge Los Angeles workers to organize against his GOP challenger, Bill Simon Jr. And Mayor James Hahn asked labor activists to rise up against the secession movements in Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley.

In a portable pulpit outside the UNITE union headquarters near the lush grounds of MacArthur Park, federal, state and local leaders used the Labor Day forum as a chance to make public pleas for action against a variety of their foes.

The event was originally set up to celebrate the opening of the new UCLA downtown Labor Center, a 6,000-square-foot facility at the UNITE building with a computer learning center and classroom space for union leadership seminars and job training. Indeed, the event included the usual ribbon-cutting ceremony.

But mostly, it was a chance for Jackson, Davis, Hahn and nearly two dozen other officials to rally some of their most powerful constituents--union members.

"Labor Day is not just a picnic festival," Jackson told about 500 people. "Workers are under assault.... We've lost 2 million jobs in the last two years, and Bush is playing terror like a one-string guitar."

Jackson said he was particularly troubled by the Bush administration's push for military action against Iraq, especially when Bush himself has never served in battle.

"It looks like the chicken hawks and the draft-dodgers are driving the generals out to war," Jackson said. "If they want to go to war for the first time, let them go to war. We choose negotiation."

Meanwhile, Hahn focused his comments on efforts by the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood to break away from Los Angeles and form their own cities. The matter will be decided by voters in November.

"United we are much stronger," Hahn told a cheering crowd. "That's the message we want to send to the people of Los Angeles. Just so you know, the candidates for office in this new Valley city are already talking about doing away with the living wage, and they are threatening the jobs and the pensions of our city workers.... We need to stop this movement before it spreads."

Davis, meanwhile, said the main person he wanted to stop was Bill Simon.

"My opponent Mr. Simon wants to take away many of the hard-won rights we have gained over the last four years," Davis said. "We cannot let him do that."

In addition to giving elected officials a platform, the event signaled a further thawing of the icy relationship between Hahn and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor leader Miguel Contreras, who supported Antonio Villaraigosa in his bid for mayor. Last Labor Day, Hahn was a no-show at events supported by Contreras. But this year, the two men stood together onstage. Joining them were U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles)--another former mayoral candidate--and Villaraigosa.

"It's important to be here today because it gives us an opportunity to honor the men and women who put the food on our tables, who teach our children, who work in our emergency rooms," Villaraigosa said. "They work not only for their families, they work to make the United States the great country that it is."

Meanwhile, in Wilmington, several thousand dockworkers and their supporters staged a Labor Day parade and rally to focus attention on stalled contract negotiations with major shipping lines along the West Coast.

The talks between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the shippers broke down last weekend over health benefits and other issues.

Union negotiators were scheduled to meet today to decide their next move, which could include a work slowdown at 29 ports in California, Washington and Oregon.

"They don't understand what labor is all about," James Spinosa, the union's international president, told the crowd at Banning Park. "We're not going to sit back and watch as they outsource and downsize like they do in every other country. We're holding our ground right here."

However, Joe Miniace, president of the Pacific Maritime Assn., which is negotiating for the shipping lines, said in a telephone interview that workers could be locked out of job sites within two to three days of a slowdown.

The dockworkers got a boost Monday from scores of teachers, electricians, carpenters and others who marched in a show of solidarity.

Many at the rally called the longshoremen's fight key to their own survival. If the dockworkers do not prevail, they said, it will send a chilling message to other unions.

"It's going to be devastating to all of us," said Bruce Blake, a truck driver and member of the Southern California chapter of Teamsters for a Democratic Union.

"The power we have is in the working people," he added.

Hahn has asked President Bush to stay out of labor negotiations at the Port of Los Angeles.

The mayor said he wants to allow the Pacific Maritime Assn. and the dockworkers to resolve their differences without federal involvement.

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