Will you stand with us?

Speech by Christine Neumann-Ortiz at Veteran’s Park, 05/01/11

I want to thank AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka for coming to Wisconsin and joining us today, and each and every one of you that came today – to send a message to Governor Walker and the nation – that working families of all backgrounds – regardless of whether or not you have papers, regardless of what shade the color of your skin is, or what language you speak – stand united in defense of the American Dream!

We are united in the belief that all people, regardless of their social status, country or circumstance, have the right to a life with liberty and happiness.

Politicians like Scott Walker and his corporate cronies only want that Dream for a tiny minority of the wealthiest in society.

The are scapegoating immigrants, union workers, and poor people for rising unemployment, low wages, and lack of benefits. Calling union workers “the privileged class” and calling immigrant workers “illegals”. Slashing life- saving medical care for low income families, seniors and the disabled. Slashing transportation and public education dollars under the pretext of a state financial crisis.

How can Governor Walker keep a straight face – the “privileged class”? Really? Teachers, nurses, janitors, bus drivers, government employees – these are the privileged class?

I don’t know any bus driver or teacher who owns a private jet . Do you?

Are not the privileged class, the multibillionaire Koch brothers who financed his ads, his state tour, and the Tea Party?

Are not the privileged class, the folks on Wall Street who are responsible for the global financial meltdown that led to skyrocketing unemployment, foreclosures, and business closures?

Are not the privileged class, the CEO’s of Corrections Corporation of America, the largest for profit prison in the US that drafted Arizona’s SB1070 to promote the criminalization of immigrants – including entire families and children–to fill jails for financial gain?

Are not the privileged class, the CEO’s of multinational corporations that lobbied to pass free trade agreements that have resulted in loss of hundreds of thousands of family supporting jobs in the US, massive unemployment with rates as high as 50% in Milwaukee’s African American neighborhoods? The CEO’s who last year, collected an average of $11.4 million a year?

In their never-ending pursuit of cheap labor and even greater and greater profits these same transnational corporations have created mass unemployment and poverty in the countries where they moved, resulting in the forced migration of millions of workers, small farmers, and small business owners in order to survive.

Have you ever met an immigrant who shipped your job to China?

Have you ever met a worker who foreclosed on your home?

Laws like NAFTA have opened borders to capital, companies, and goods while eroding the rights of workers, legal channels for immigration and militarizing the border – creating, designing – a pool of workers with less rights.

They have labeled those workers with the least rights “illegals” to undermine our solidarity, our compassion, our common struggle.

They do not want you to see – what we see – the suffering and injustice in the immigrant community:

• a small business owner from Mexico who was reduced to poverty and came to pick apples in California and did not eat for 2 days until he could earn enough money to buy some food.
• a young woman, born in the US, whose father was deported and whose mother, a US citizen, passed away. She and her 19 year old sister are working and attending college – struggling to fulfill their parent’s hope for a better life. Her father denied a visa to attend his wife’s funeral and share his grief with his daughters.
• a Deacon at a church, a welder for 15 years, facing deportation because he filed a workman’s comp injury and the insurance company, after collecting his premium for 15 years, has a policy to check immigration status of injured workers in order to have them deported and discourage others from reporting dangerous working conditions.

This is not an accident. It is design. The old Roman adage – divide and conquer. They want to divide privates sector workers against public employees. Native workers against new immigrants.

We are in the fight of our lives.

An all out war on working people has spread from the so-called Third World, where workers have long faced repression and poverty to provide large margins of profit for these companies; to the US, where the final assault is being waged on the last stronghold for workers’ rights–the public sector unions and the least shred of the 1930s New Deal commitment to provide economic security for working people and retirees.

Yet, this attack is also bringing us together.

New Americans and native born, workers from all over the world have sent messages of solidarity and support for our struggle in Wisconsin.

And we know we will win this fight because we are doing what is required of us -strengthening our alliances, engaging in collective action and voice through recalls, mass protests, Capitol takeovers and walkouts.

We are sending a message to Governor Walker, Sensenbrenner and the Koch brothers who are trying to destroy the hard won gains of the civil rights movement and labor movement: that we will not go back to the days of child labor, when workers had no rights, the 12 hour day, no health care or no retirement and legal segregation reigned. When only the rich could afford an education and medical care. We will not go back!

And we say to President Obama that as Latinos who turned out to vote in historic numbers for his presidency, that change takes courage and if he wants our vote in 2012 then he must use his executive power to stop record deportations and separation of families.

We say:
NO, to an AZ copycat bill in WI!;
YES to collective bargaining rights!;
YES to public education and health care and a dignified and secure retirement!;
YES to instate tuition rights for Wisconsin’s children!;

To the Wall Street bankers and corporate CEOs who have made their billions from the fruits of our labor–mental and physical – and yet demand more – we say, enough!

Working people, native and those who came from all over the world-gave their blood and sweat to build this country and its democracy, and we will not allow you to steal it and destroy it.

Will you stand with us?

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This post is also available in: Spanish