Chanting “Hey, hey, ho, union busting got to go,” a crowd of several hundred union members and their supporters gathered Tuesday on Legislative Plaza to voice their anger over the Tennessee General Assembly’s taking measures that they say are an attack on labor.
Paramount among their concerns is a bill that would end collective bargaining between teachers’ unions and school systems. State Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, was among several legislators on hand to show support for the cause.
“The bill, House Bill 130, is not an education bill,” Stewart told The City Paper. “It is part of a national anti-union effort funded by some national Republicans. One of these days we will learn to stop fighting all our political battles in the schools and let the teachers teach our children.”
Mary Mancini, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, took the stage and introduced labor activists from unions ranging from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to the Teamsters, as the crowd cheered their approval.
Similarly, Al Mance, executive director of the Tennessee Education Association, excoriated Republicans in the legislature for what he feels is an attack on the working class and reminded rally attendees that they must show elected officials who is boss at the polls in the 2012 elections.
Rank-and-file workers made their voices heard, too.
Thelma Ritter, a custodial worker at the University of Memphis, proclaimed, “We need more money in our paychecks!” and demanded that public employees receive a living wage.
Bo McCurry, an electrical worker from Sparta, told the crowd that labor must keep up the fight for jobs, and asked for help in trying to keep a Philips electronics plant in his hometown from moving to Mexico.
According to A.J. Starling, director of TN AFL-CIO, participants in Tuesday’s rally came from all over the state to stand together.
“I feel good about today’s effort,” Starling said. “Support for workers’ rights is on the rise and our membership is waking up.”
Pro-labor activists will have a chance to again show their support, as another rally has been called for March 23. A coalition of organizations including Common Cause, Tennesseans for Fair Taxation and Tennessee Citizen Action has formed a group called “Tennessee Priorities” and is sponsoring the rally and a day of lobbying legislators.