Hundreds of Thousands in New York City March Against the War

Largest Labor Antiwar Contingent Ever Demands Immediate Return of All Troops

Organizers estimate 350,000 or more people joined the March for Peace, Justice and Democracy in New York City Saturday. The trade union contingent was the largest, broadest and most spirited of any in fifty years or more. Between fifteen and twenty thousand labor antiwar activists came from across the country — from as far away as California, Mississippi, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont and upstate New York.

The march was kicked off by a labor rally at which leaders of delegations from around the nation took the podium to acknowledge their members’ presence. One highlight of the rally was a powerful denunciation of the war in Iraq by Roger Toussaint, President of Transit Workers Union Local 100, who had been jailed followed a strike by NYC transit workers embroiled in a struggle for a fair contract.  Brother Toussaint was ordered to serve ten days in the NYC jail after a judge ruled the union had violated the anti-union “Taylor Law” which bars strikes by public workers and imposed fines and suspended dues checkoff in addition to jailing the union’s president. He was jailed just a block and a half from the Foley Square terminus of the march where a Peace, Justice and Democracy Grassroots Action Festival was being held. TWU members maintained a 24-hour a day vigil outside the Tombs (as the NYC jail is locally known). On the eve of the demonstration in which the labor contingent planned to join the vigil en masse following the march, Brother Toussaint was unexpectedly released. He was welcomed as a working class hero by the throng of labor marchers gathered shoulder to shoulder in the labor contingent assembly area on 19th Street at Broadway. Toussaint spoke about the relationship of the war in Iraq and the war at home against working people and their unions.

Vermont’s Bread and Puppet Theatre at the April 29, 2006, New York march against the Iraq War

Photo by Tom Barrett

Another major speaker was John Wilhelm, President of the Hospitality Industry Division of UNITE HERE, who expressed his gratitude to U.S. Labor Against the War for organizing what by all accounts turned out to be the largest such labor contingent in the history of all antiwar protests (including those during the Vietnam War). Both Presidents Wilhelm and Toussaint took their places at the front of the labor contingent behind the USLAW banner. They were joined by union leaders and members from UNITE HERE, TWU, CWA, SEIU, AFT, AFSCME, NEA, IBEW, USWA, NJ IUC, UE, BMWE, UAW, AFM, IBT, Pride at Work, LCLAA, a number of labor councils and many others in a massive outpouring of labor antiwar sentiment.

The rally was co-chaired by Nancy Wohlforth, Co-Convenor of USLAW, who is Secretary-Treasurer of OPEIU (and also Co-President of Pride at Work and a member of the AFL-CIO General Executive Council) and Wilfredo Larancuenta, Manager of the Laundry Division of UNITE HERE. It was opened by Gene Bruskin, Co-Convenor, who greeted the crowd on behalf of USLAW. A delegation from Military Families Speak Out and Iraq Veterans Against the War also made a powerful presentation, demanding the immediate return of the troops as the only meaningful way to support them. The labor contingent drew participants from unions on both sides of the AFL-CIO/Change to Win divide in the labor movement.

The labor rally featured music from the NY Labor Chorus, NJ Industrial Union Council Solidarity Singers, a percussion group, and chants led by Steve Kramer, Executive Vice President of 1199SEIU, the largest local union in the nation with more than 240,000 members.

It took nearly four hours for the march to proceed from its kickoff at 17th and Broadway to the festival site in Foley Square, two miles away.

At the festival, USLAW sponsored one of 19 tents in which literature was distributed and “Meeting Face to Face,” the documentary about the 25-city 2005 tour by six Iraqi labor leaders, was shown on a monitor, and where copies, along with buttons and bumper stickers, were sold.

The labor rally was taped by WBAI for broadcast on May Day evening (check their website for an archival recording).

Report by U.S. Labor Against the War