By Harrison Magee
November 1, 2010
New York, NY– Thousands of union members and allies packed the streets of Midtown on October 24, to rally in solidarity with all the men and women of New York City’s building trades. The event, which was organized by the Building and Construction Trades Council of NY, brought together scores of the city’s most talented workforces, which voiced their pride, unity and resolve as they continue to confront economic and political threats to decent, sustainable employment.
“Everything we have, we owe to our unions,” said BCTC representative Gary LaBarbera in his introduction. “But there are still nonunion contractors who do not care about dignity.” Leading the struggle to create and maintain good jobs for the threatened middle class, LaBarbera declared that, “Today, we draw a line in the sand.”
LIUNA Local 79 Business Manager John Delgado galvanized union members in an emotional speech that echoed LaBarbera’s call to action. “Today is your day to take back the City,” Delgado told listeners, “…to send a message to the developers who want to build the City without living wages.”
Besides being called to action, the energetic audience was called to unity by keynote speaker Pres. Lech Walesa of Poland. An internationally-recognized Nobel Laureate and trade unionist, Walesa was the first to ever take office through democratic elections in post-Soviet Poland, which was won after years of struggle undertaken by his union’s party, “Solidarity,” whose name was visible Monday on a sea of red and white posters.
Walesa, who was once an electrician, said, “No prior generation has had our potential for prosperity, equality, and peace—providing that we remain in solidarity.” He reminded listeners that his fight in Poland was won through “spirit and unity,” not “guns and missiles,” and that organized labor must harness the same values to overcome their oppositions.
Monday’s action was a full-fledged demonstration of this spirit. In the shadows of Times Square’s skyscrapers, Tony LaCava of Bricklayers and Allied Traders Local 1 commented on the factors contributing to the day’s high energy. “We built this city from the beginning,” he said gazing at the buildings overhead. Looking then to the packed sidewalks, he acknowledged that the tens of thousands of building tradesmen and women in attendance– carpenters, laborers, operating engineers, painters, plumbers, and electricians, among many others– “have everything to be proud of every single day.”
In an economic climate that has driven new construction projects down by over 25%, this pride is more important to unionized workers in the building trades than ever. Kenny, a laborer from Brooklyn, stressed that the conconnection felt by members between work standards and living standards is no accident. “I learned my job, and I earn my living,” he said. “We’re not just fighting to keep our paychecks, we’re fighting for the right to do what we know how to do better than anyone.”
When asked about the unions’ reactions to the use of government spending and stimulus funding to support nonunion construction projects, he said, “Yes, it’s a contradiction. Yes, it’s sad. And yes, we take it personally.”