Over 500 angry voices shook the windows of the Bellevue, Wash., Westin Hotel on Sept. 29. The rally of workers, retirees, and activists were there to protest the right-wing Freedom Foundation, which was holding its annual fundraising gala high above the streets. As union carpenter Pedro Espinoza told the crowd, “They [Freedom Foundation] look down at us. But they don’t understand. They don’t realize that building wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for the tradespeople here.”
Members of the Foundation, would-be destroyers of unions, wages, pensions and health and safety regulations, stared down at the raucous throng.
Labor on the move. The misnamed Freedom Foundation is a well-funded organization dedicated to busting public employee unions and stripping working people of basic job rights. It wants to gut anti-discrimination legislation, remove environmental protections, reduce LGBTQ and women’s rights, and block taxes on wealth. It must be confronted and stopped.
And Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity (OWLS) has been doing just that for the past two and a half years. An open, multiracial, multicultural collaboration of rank-and-file labor activists, OWLS works to forge unity across union lines and within the broader community. The group has been standing up to the Foundation at every opportunity. These efforts paid off when a diverse and extremely vocal crowd of transit riders, retirees, a slew of unionists, along with immigrant, queer, feminist, and civil rights organizations came out to picket the Foundation. Some of the Carpenters and Laborers came from Portland, Ore., where they had stood against the Foundation the night before. Remarkable!
The shoulder-to-shoulder protest line stretched over two blocks. Demonstrators chanted so loudly it was hard to hear. The Laborers entertained the throng with massive effigies of a “fat cat” banker and “rat” boss. The Firefighters brought pizzas and pop. The cause was serious, the tone was triumphant and defiant.
Sybrina Woodson, a member of Washington Federation of State Employees Local 304 enthused, “It was really cool seeing the diversity of unions at the picket — us state employees, but also Laborers, Machinists, Steelworkers, and so many others. There is power in numbers!”
OWLS got dozens of unions and community groups to endorse the event, and show up with members on the line. Over thirty organizations responded, three times the number from the previous year.
Maxine Reigel, co-coordinator of the September picket, points out that this organizing increases collaboration across unions. And she noted that OWLS has the important role of “educating the labor movement that the Freedom Foundation is more than just attacking union wages, it has a broad-based agenda and labor needs a broad-based response.”
The fight goes on. OWLS organizing bolstered a successful court appeal by several public employee unions to stop the Foundation from getting their union members’s private information. Next step in the campaign, fill the King County Superior Court Room 217 on Thursday, Nov. 17. Why? Because the Foundation is trying to overturn a recent law passed by Seattle City Council to tax high-income earners to pay for human services.
Washington state has a huge number of millionaires, no income tax, and the most regressive tax structure in the nation. Seattle’s “high-income earners tax” was enacted to address this gross inequity. It will raise $140 million for human services with a 2.5 percent tax on incomes over $250,000 for a single person or $500,000 for couples. The Foundation opposes this tax. OWLS is organizing grassroots support to help ensure the tax isn’t overturned.
After the smashing success of the recent demonstration, further actions promise to be equally exhilarating and energizing. Every time the Foundation tries to rear its ugly head, OWLS will be there to strike back.
Get involved! Contact OWLS at OrganizedWorkersLS@gmail.com.