Protesters from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers stand in solidarity with other union workers during an April 4 protest in Santa Cruz. Photo by Toby Silverman.
Photo by Toby Silverman.
A man holds a photo of Martin Luther King Jr. during "We Are One," a union workers' protest held on King's birthday, April 4, in Santa Cruz. Photo by Toby Silverman.

On the 43rd anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, participants of “We Are One,” a campaign supporting workers’ rights, organized over 1,200 events across the United States and Canada.

The rally was a show of resistance against local, state and federal government legislation curbing union rights. In many states, such as Wisconsin and Rhode Island, public service workers are in danger of losing critical benefits.

In Santa Cruz, roughly 150 people gathered in front of the county building at 5 p.m. on April 4 to rally for collective bargaining rights and demand government action against union-busting. Cesar Chavez was honored at the Santa Cruz event in addition to King.

Community members at the rally voiced concern for state and federal budget changes.

“We are working to help [Gov.] Jerry Brown get a reasonable budget in California,” protester Dorelle Rawlings said, “one that is not just cuts.”

Advocates of the movement were there to speak out against “well-funded, right-wing corporate politicians [who] are trying to take away the rights Dr. King gave his life for: the freedom to bargain, to vote, to afford a college education and justice for all workers, immigrant and native-born,” according to the “We Are One” organizing website.

County supervisor John Leopold said lawmakers need to return to their democratic values and let the public decide on budget issues.

“It’s amazing to me that in Sacramento the Republican Party won’t even let you vote about whether you want to increase taxes or extend taxes,” Leopold said in an address to the crowd. “We should get a chance for the majority to express their will about how we would like to organize ourselves, tax ourselves and provide services for our fellow human beings.”

Among the supporting organizations present were representatives from the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, MoveOn.org, Democracy for America, Organizing for Santa Cruz, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 521 Region 2 helped plan the rally. Region 2 represents Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties, and had a solid presence at the event.

Walt George, SEIU Region 2 trustee, said the government needs to recognize corporations, and money mongers are to blame for the financial downturn.

“It’s not the workers who caused the economic problems of our country,” George said. “Any workers should have the right to unionize. Our economic woes are not the faults of the unions.”

Santa Cruz vice-mayor Don Lane said the government must make it possible for the lowest paid workers to succeed and ensure economic health.

“Real prosperity starts from the ground up,” Lane said to the crowd. “A trickle-down approach must be rejected.”

County supervisor Leopold said the government needs to start taxing the rich and recognizing the importance of unions.

“In the time when unions were the strongest, our economy was the best in this country,” Leopold said. “A whole host of large corporations are not doing their part — they’re not paying taxes.”

Pointing to a local workers’ benefits issue, Doris Henry, Santa Cruz SEIU chapter president, said approximately 375 temporary city workers risk losing social security benefits because of a proposed shift to 401(k) plans.

“The city would be removing them from the basic safety net available to every other worker in America,” Henry said. “Let’s support our temporary workers to keep their American rights. If they lose theirs, are yours far behind?”

Vice-mayor Lane said the current economic model is unacceptable, and applauds those who challenge it.

“One powerful group in this country has put forth the mistaken idea that cutting taxes on corporations and on the people who make the most money will save us,” Lane said. “But people across the country are actively rejecting this mistaken idea.”