HONOLULU—Hundreds gathered today at the Hawaii State Capitol to rally for union solidarity and to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was murdered 43 years ago today in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was speaking on behalf of a group of workers seeking to unionize. The rally was also intended to show support and solidarity for unions in the Midwest targeted by benefits cuts in several state efforts to balance budgets, most notably Wisconsin.
A choir began the proceedings, singing songs of hope and healing. Union officials gave impassioned speeches, to roars of assent as they decried greed and corruption in corporate America. Many unions were represented, including SHOPO, Local 5, HGEA, and the Hawaii State Teachers Association. T-shirts and placards with pro-union slogans were in abundance.
Duane Stevens, president of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, was pleased to be a part of the demonstration of support. “I like the way this event has brought together the public and private sector unions,” Stevens said. “It shows that unions are a force to be reckoned with.”
Rusty Lantry of United Public Workers said: “Unions are a good force. We don’t want to extort the people of Hawaii, we just want what’s fair.”
Organizers energized the crowd with the rallying cry “Workers rights are human rights, same struggle, same fight.”
Pila Simon of Local 5 stressed the importance of honoring Dr. King’s memory, and of getting the word out that union workers are committed to protecting their livelihoods and their benefits.
“With everything that’s going on in Wisconsin and everywhere, it’s important to let people know what’s happening.” Simon estimated that Local 5 alone had 400 people at the rally.
In Madison, Wisconsin, Reverend Jesse Jackson led thousands in a vigil on the Wisconsin capitol’s steps. A Wisconsin law that would strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights is likely on hold for at least two months.
“Today, we commemorate the life and crucifixion. Tomorrow, we vote and realize the resurrection,” Jackson said.
On Tuesday, March 5, Wisconsin residents head to the ballots for the Milwaukee County executive race and the state Supreme Court race. Democrats and labor unions are looking to make a statement by voting against Wisconsin’s Republican candidates.