After Bush, What?

Interview with Maria Elena Durazo: "Today we vote, tomorrow we march"

By Rosalio Munoz
Published on LatinoLA: October 27, 2008

After Bush, What?

"When we elect Barack, knock on wood, we will have someone who responds to labor, to people's needs, the plight of immigrants, but he can't win change alone. It will take a larger movement," said Maria Elena Durazo, leader of the 840,000 member Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

One of the most successful and dynamic labor leaders in the country, she has been at the center of organizing, negotiating, and election efforts that have made Los Angeles a union city with a county wide labor force that is 19% organized, compared to a national rate of 11%. In the midst of mobilizing for a union voter turnout in the hundreds of thousands, and phone banking and sending workers to battleground states, Durazo dedicated three days to fasting for immigrant rights encamped with scores of other fasters at La Plaza Olvera, the historic and geographical center of the Los Angeles area.

On October 25, after her first day of fasting, she sat down beside her tent for an interview with the Peoples Weekly World on the impacts of the Bush administration on working people and the prospects for change with this election.

"We have had a great degrees of success locally with home care, truckers, janitors, construction and other industries but the scale has to be two to three times more. Labor has political clout locally but not as strong in the state and nation. There are more and more poverty level jobs, the cost of living has risen with gas prices, record repossessions increasing deportation," she said soberly.

"Our only protection in a looming depression is a stronger movement that can fight back," against corporate take aways and raiding of the national treasury. "What we are doing in this election is unprecedented. City and statewide, we are sending hundreds and hundreds of members to work full time in battle ground states. This is proof of what we can do, of our potential when we know what is at stake.

Continued action will be needed to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, defend Social Security, win comprehensive immigration reform, end the war in Iraq, she stressed. "We will have to take the lead. If we don't, the Democrats will weaken" under corporate pressure, said the union leader.

"I firmly believe the unions have to invest more and more into organizing, regardless of the law. It is our responsibility.

Reviewing the Bush administration she reflected, "Their disdain for human rights and international guarantees has not been seen for decades. Our government has lost the respect of the world, but not the people. The world is watching our election, and expects the people will change the direction. If the voters elect McCain, respect will be lost for our people."

"The war in Iraq is nothing to be proud of, the invasion, massive killing, and disregard for life, as well as the resources lost. It took a few years, but the economic impact is felt by everyone. We can't afford good education or health care. We can't respond well to natural disasters like Katrina. The decades-long neglect of our infrastructure has gotten worse."

"It has not only become more difficult to organize, it has become more dangerous, going back to the days of Joe Hill. The immigration raids are increasing, workers are treated like terrorists," she added. "The Republicans have been the worst, but many Democrats are from conservative and moderate districts."

Durazo said, "I have joined in this fast to remind the Latino community and others of the importance of the vote."

The Fast For Our Future organized and supported by immigrants rights, clergy, youth, and labor activists, is calling for a million people to sign a pledge to vote for immigrant rights, to fast one day, to mobilize others to support the campaign, and to work on the issue after the election.

"We have to realize the slogan of 2006: Today we march, tomorrow we vote," said Durazo. Asked what next, she said, "Today we vote, tomorrow we march."

About Rosalio Munoz:
Rosalio Munoz is the Southern California Correspondent of the Peoples Weekly world, a strong supporter of the Fast For Our Future
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