Colorado Stands Ground to Maintain Workers Rights

by Toni Fresquez
Posted on El Seminario 04-06-2011

In 1968, Martin Luther King went to Memphis to support the Sanitation workers’ struggle to earn a living wage. On April 4, 1968, Dr. King was assassinated in the midst of a battle for dignity for those public employees. Decades later, in response to attacks by ultra-conservative governors, the struggle for workers’ rights is spreading from union workers in states like Wisconsin to Americans who just want the chance find a job and earn a decent living.

Several of Denver’s prominent union forces -- Colorado Jobs with Justice, Service Employees International Union, American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, Communications Workers of America -- assembled along with students and community members who marched throughout downtown Denver on Monday, participating in a national ‘We Are One’ themed rally to commemorate the 43rd anniversary of Rev. King’s last speech and assassination. 

The march ended at the Auraria Campus in Denver with an energetic rally featuring various human rights advocates carrying signs with bold slogans, some holding brooms and mops high symbolizing the depths of the service industry workers – who make up 90% of the nations workforce, according to recent research.

In conjunction with the March, the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) coordinated a student “walk-out” to attend the events on campus, and to send a message of solidarity with workers.

Curious students gathered around the rally to listen to the scheduled speakers, learning first-hand on the necessity of a renewed movement.

“We are going to take back as a movement what is rightfully ours, the power and prestige of this great nation,” stated Prior Kieran of St. Dunstan's Priory in Denver, an ecumenical order of Benedictines. 
Citing prose from late civil rights leaders, Prior Kiernan recalled Rev. King’s quote, “‘Faith is never voluntary given by the oppressor it must be demanded by the oppressed.’ Today we demand our rights, we demand our rights to organize, to bargain to not only have a say, but to have a majority say in what is produced in this great nation of ours.

“I had the honor and privilege to be arrested with my friends and companions as part of The Denver 14 last June, by the time we got out of jail we were announced in over 200 places in this great nation of ours -- so I thought I should tell the head of my order,” explained Prior Kiernan. “I’ve always believed in the old Jesuit axiom that it is better to pray for forgiveness than to ask permission. So I didn’t ask permission to go to jail, I went jail because it was the right thing to do.

“So I called the head of my religious order, I said ‘Brother Abbott I have something to tell you. I was arrested and its’ been in all of the papers so you are probably going to hear about it.’ He asked, ‘Brother why were you arrested?’ I said I was arrested to protest the immigration policy or lack thereof, at the federal level in this country. He immediately answered back, ‘Oh Brother don’t you worry about a thing, I was with César in the fields in the sixties.’”

Prior Kiernan offered a quote from César Chávez, “‘You cannot oppress a people who are not afraid anymore.’ We have seen the future, and the future is ours; and in the words of Dolores Huerta and César Chávez – Yes we can, Si Se Puede,” he said to a resounding applause.

Guest speaker Nita Gonzales, CEO of the Escuela Tlatelolco Centro de Estudios offered an uplifting speech at the Campus ‘teach-in", "Mil gracias to all of you who heard the call and stand together today. I stand here today with each and every one of you in the spirit of my father Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales. In Denver Colorado we weren't waiting for superman – we had our superman in Corky Gonzales. Who thankfully lived a life that gave me the advantage of not only meeting César Chávez and Dolores Huerta, but marching, organizing rallies and supporting the work and struggle for human rights for this nations farmworkers, for human rights and for work that is not yet finished; and it isn't finished and we marched today because of that. We march in the spirit of our ancestors who overcame fear and injustice who struggled and died because they chose to live as free human beings who walked the talk.

“Chavez and Huerta grasped the essential task – organize, organize, organize – his legacy and that of my father Corky Gonzales is one of action, not words, not promises that are not kept – but action. Mobilization against injustice hatred, mobilize, unionize, so that all workers can reap the fruit of their labor,” said Gonzales to her captive audience.

“Let me teach you something about our homeland, we’ve always been here, this is our homeland, we will always be here. So let me remind you of that. We stand here today in honor of the memory of those nineteen who died right here in Colorado at Ludlow. Do you remember that? April 20, 1914? The United Mine Workers stood up against the Rockefeller corporations – they weren’t fearful. What are we afraid of,” challenged Gonzales.

“In the spirit of César Chávez, Emiliano Zapata, Dolores Huerta, Cuauhtémoc – learn those names – Crazy Heart, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr…people of destiny of courage, of sacrifice and vision. This is a global struggle for rights for all people and we must remember that this work is not yet done. Our nation continues to wage war upon its own working class and people, the powers that be make themselves richer by exploiting everyone of us – workers, middle class, poor, - in the words of Dr. King, I love these words, ‘There comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression,’” quoted Gonzales.

“We are tired of being trampled, we have to stand up, stop being fearful. We need more marches, we need thousands of people blocking the streets. Nothing in the development in the history of this country regarding justice and human rights came because some President or Congress thought it was the right thing to do – it came because people marched in the streets like we do today.

“In the words of my father, he said ‘no one has the right to oppress people and all oppressed people have the right to a revolution.’ So let us send a message today, workers rights are human rights, we stand unified and tell the people of Colorado we are not Wisconsin and united we stand and united we will win,” proclaimed Gonzales.

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