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800 Rally and March For Janitors (english)
by Dan Keshet
Email: dkesh, channel1, com (unverified!)
19 Oct 2002
Modified: 23 Oct 2002
BOSTON - As the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 615 janitors' strike finished its third week, about eight hundred
janitors, students, and community members rallied in Copley Square,
followed by a spirited march through the Prudential Center and back to Copley Square.
The janitors' strike targets major downtown Boston buildings serviced
by contract cleaning agencies, especially UNICCO. The union's main
demands include more full-time jobs, health insurance for more
janitors, and better wages. Under their current contract, janitors
must work twenty-nine hours per week in order to qualify for health
care, but only one in four reach that threshold. The janitors have
settled contracts favorably with many smaller cleaning service
companies, but they have failed to settle with Newton-based UNICCO, an
international service company with over 20,000 employees and $600
million in revenues.
The march took the crowd into the Prudential Center through the
Food Court, through the mall, over the skywalk, and out back,
returning to Copley Square. Inside the building, the crowd's chants
of "No Justice, No Peace" grew in both relevance and volume, echoing
off the shop walls. Onlookers' reactions varied from annoyed to
supportive, but were universally stunned.
The rally crowd was a diverse mix, including janitors, other union
members, politicians and political activists, and other community
organizations. The event was almost entirely bilingual in English and
Spanish; nearly all of the janitors are immigrants from Latin America,
and speak either Spanish or Portuguese as their first language.
Students in the crowd came from MIT, Emerson, Suffolk, and
Northeastern University. About fifteen Northeastern students had
camped out the night before in front of Churchill Hall, which houses
Northeastern University President Richard Freeland's offices. The
students met with the President in the morning and spoke with him for
about fifteen minutes, according to student participants Scott
Breiding and Seth Amsden. Breiding said the conversation was
respectful, but the President would not agree to the students' demands
that he instruct Consolidated Service Corporation, the cleaning agency
which employs Northeastern janitors, to pay all of their janitors
living wages and give them health insurance benefits.
Although they were dissatisfied with the results of the
conversation, Breiding and Amsden said that the action had sent a
strong message both to the President, and, more importantly, to the
janitors. When striking janitors saw the students' tents as they
arrived on campus at 10AM, many of them began weeping, according to
Amsden, and told the students that if they ever needed support, the
janitors would be there for them.
Supporting unions included Local 2324 of the UAW at Boston
University, representing office workers and other support staff. Elly
Leary, the former Vice President of the union, said she was there
because she believed in the union motto, "an injury to one is an
injury to all", while Jim Gallagher recalled the union's 1979 strike
to achieve a living wage and health insurance.
Politicians in attendance included Jarrett Barrios, state
representative and soon-to-be state senator from Cambridge, Boston
City Councillor Chuck Turner, Green Party gubernatorial candidate Jill
Stein and Treasurer candidate James O'Keefe, both of whom brought
medium-sized groups of sign- and button-toting supporters, Cambridge
City Councillor and state representative Tim Toomey, and New Hampshire
gubernatorial candidate Mark Fernald. Fernald, a Democrat, joined New
Hampshire SEIU members in making the trip to support the striking
janitors. The SEIU is the largest union in New Hampshire.
Other community groups in attendance included the Greater Boston
Interfaith Organization (GBIO), the Community Church of Boston, and
Kahal B'raira, a Boston congregation of secular humanist Jews, who
have raised over $1000 for the janitors' strike fund. Nikhil Aziz, an
Indian-born immigrant, came with the Alliance for a Secular and
Democratic South Asia. He connected the janitors' struggle as workers
avoiding oppression to all other struggles to overcome oppression,
whether it be heterosexism, racism, or sexism.
At least one hundred or so members of the crowd were from radical
socialist or anarchist groups. Anarchist groups in attendance
included the Boston Anarchists Against Militarism, the Sabate
Collective, and the Firefly Collective, all members of the New England
Federation of Anarcho-Communists. Two young anarchists carried
red-and-black anarcho-syndicalist flags, while another carried a
purple-and-black flag she identified as representing anarcha-feminism.
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rally impressions (english)
(No verified email address)
21 Oct 2002
Thanks for the rally report Dan. Based on an email from the organizers I had expected 5,000 to attend this rally. Does anyone know why the turnout was so much lower? For me the highpoint of the event was when hundreds of marchers emerged from the Prudential Center to join the rest of the march as we went back to Copley Square. A small correction on the anarchist participation: it is the Northeast Federation of Anarcho-Communists (NEFAC) not the New England Federation.
After the march a handful of us went to Dudley Square to join the "PRISON REFORM UNITY DAY" rally and march to the South Bay prison, to protest the brutal conditions there and in other Massachusetts prisons. Several ex-convicts related their experiences of systematic abuse in prison: solitary confinement for years at a time, regular beatings by guards etc. Though the rally and march were poorly attended (maybe 50+ at its height) the recognition from the inmates at South Bay prison who waved to us, pumped their fists and banged on the glass in desperation made the event. As I walked to the T, I took one look back at this gulag of a prison and noticed that in one window an inmate had crafted a sign, sending a message to the protestors and hopefully to the world. It read... "Help Us".
further corrections (english)
by dan keshet
dkesh, channel1, com (unverified)
21 Oct 2002
2 more corrections about the anarchists were mailed to me by a member of BAAM!
"1. BAAM! - the name actualy doesn't stand for "Boston
Anarchists Against Militarism". That was the name of a
now-defunct anti-war group. BAAM! is a general union
of anarchists in the Boston area, and we are very
active on many different fronts, including
anti-capitalism, anti-war, community service, guerilla
art, etc, etc. The letters in BAAM! don't stand for
anything and BAAM! isn't an acronymn, it's just BAAM!"
"2. BAAM! is not now, has never been in the past, and
"almost certainly will never be in the future any part
of the Northeastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists.
We are a local, fiercely independent group."
a bit sectarianism? (english)
by nefac anarchist
(No verified email address)
22 Oct 2002
What's up? When was it implyed that BAAM had anything to do with NEFAC? Why the condesending response? We're all anarchists here, let's not fall prey to the sectarian nonsense of the Leninoids. Everyone in Boston NEFAC respects your "feirce independence" (grrr!!) as a local anarchist group, and we are all quite happy to build a principled working relationship with you regardless of whether or not you will ever want to affiliate with NEFAC (which, considering many of your members do not identify as anarcho-communists, I don't think anyone ever expected you to be interested).
not that bad (english)
by dan keshet
(No verified email address)
23 Oct 2002
Well, I did get those bits wrong, and the corrections were couched in a larger email making many of the same points you did.