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Fight racism, build unity!


Published Sep 16, 2009 5:27 PM

WORKERS WORLD PARTY and newspaper endorse and are actively helping to build the Jobs March to take place in Pittsburgh on Sept. 20, as well as the Tent City that follows.

Why is this march, which begins in the historically African-American section of a city that once was the steel center of the United States, so important?

Just look at the official unemployment figures. Although they minimize the drastic situation for the working class by not counting part-time and “discouraged” workers, they nevertheless map the trends from month to month.

In August, the overall jobless rate continued to rise, even as the experts were talking of an economic rebound. It reached 9.7 percent, showing that this jobless recovery, while it is putting hefty profits into the pockets of the rich, means little for tens of millions of workers and their families.

Among Black workers, however, the jobless level soared to more than 15 percent in August. Racism in hiring and firing continues to raise its ugly head, despite the Obama election victory.

White workers are now feeling the pain of a jobless rate of 8.9 percent. This is the level that, even in relatively “good” times, was endured for decades in the communities of color. It is terribly important that white people give serious thought to this. Being aware of the brutal exploitation that Black, Latino/a, Indigenous and other oppressed workers have suffered every day and also taking an active role in combating racism are essential to building the kind of multinational solidarity that will restore the power of labor in this country.

The Pittsburgh march will be a great act of solidarity in a city and a region that desperately needs it. While the earthquake of layoffs, evictions and foreclosures is being felt all over the U.S., the de-industrialized Midwest is its epicenter. In the city of Detroit, once Motor City to the world, the jobless rate is now almost 30 percent. Such desperate conditions haven’t been seen since the Great Depression.

During the Depression, many of Pittsburgh’s Black steelworkers lived on The Hill, the same neighborhood that is hosting today’s Jobs March. From their homes, they could look out on the skyscrapers housing the offices of the giant steel companies that paid them less than white workers and laid them off at nearly twice the rate. Even in 1940, the unemployment rate among Black steelworkers in Pittsburgh aged 18 to 44 years was an astonishing 71 percent. (“Out of the Crucible: Black Steelworkers in Western Pennsylvania” by Dennis C. Dickerson)

The industrial unions that muscled up in 1936 and 1937 owed much to Black-white solidarity. Nowhere was this more evident than in Pittsburgh, where Black steel laborers working in segregated mills became the staunchest supporters of the Steel Workers Organizing Committee. It was this solidarity that let union organizers take on the mighty U.S. Steel Co. and bring it to its knees.

The suffering now descending on the working class can only be fought effectively if working people of all genders, sexualities, ages and national origins, their unions and community organizations band together to demand basic human rights: the right to a job or income, to an affordable home, to health care and education, and to live securely without fear of bigotry or economic attacks.

On to Pittsburgh!