The Electrical Worker online
September 2012

Thousands Rally In Philadelphia
To Strengthen Middle Class
index.html Home    print Print    email Email

Go to

The first time Katrina Forman — a casino worker who has been trying to organize her workplace — put on a pro-union button at work, she was petrified. Her fellow employees who had begun advocating for better working conditions and a voice on the job had been harassed and even fired for talking about joining a union.

But when the 24-year-old walked onto the stage Aug. 11 at the massive Workers Stand For America rally in Philadelphia, that fear had long since faded. In its place, and on full display to the 40,000 energetic attendees who gathered on a Saturday morning at the city's historic Eakins Oval, was a steely determination to speak out against workplace injustice and mistreatment.

"I am likely risking my job by being here today," she said, before tearfully recounting a pivotal moment when co-workers donned their union pins and took their first collective stand against management intimidation.

"But at my workplace, we aren't about to give up. We're growing stronger every day despite everything the company throws at us," she said, prompting a chorus of cheers and applause from attendees.

A New Bill of Rights

Forman was one of five everyday citizens-turned-activists at the rally who represented the tenets of America's Second Bill of Rights. Crafted and put forth by a coalition of working family advocates, the platform calls for the rights to: full employment and a living wage; full participation in the electoral process; a voice at work; a quality education; and a secure, healthy future.

The document was formally announced at a signing ceremony at Philadelphia's Independence Hall the night before the rally, where activists and labor leaders offered their signatures. More than 7,600 signed the bill at the rally — bringing the total number of signers to approximately 50,000. America's Second Bill of Rights will be presented to both political parties ahead of the Nov. 6 election.

Under clear skies and enjoying a balmy breeze, attendees representing dozens of trade unions — as well as many nonunion workers — heard rousing speeches and passionate pleas from ordinary citizens, politicians and labor leaders. Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) took the stage to critique Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's morning announcement of Tea Party favorite Paul Ryan as his running mate. A video from President Barack Obama offered support for many of the aspects of the workers' bill of rights. And AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka fired up the crowd when he told attendees that they — not the richest Americans or multinational corporations — "are the real job creators."

"We built this country," Trumka said. "We wake it up every day, and we put it to sleep every night — and it's time that we took it back for the American worker."

Representing the right to a quality education, Philadelphia activist Helen Gym skewered local and state politicians for slashing $1 billion in funding for public schools. Her sentiment was echoed by Wasserman Schultz, who told the crowd, "As a mother, I believe a child needs an education more than a millionaire needs a tax break."

Army veteran Clifford Glass explained how new laws in his home state of Tennessee were making it harder for minorities, seniors and students to vote. Glass has been a voter since 1960, but he lacks a driver's license and his veterans card now no longer grants him access to the ballot box.

"I didn't think that at my age I would become an activist again," Glass, 78, told the crowd. "But, friends, I will not die knowing I caved in on fighting for rights that I joined the U.S. military in the service of our country to preserve and protect."

Rally attendee Rich Slivkanch, a member of Pennsylvania's Bricklayers Local 5, attended with fellow union members and said America's Second Bill of Rights was "a great idea."

"I signed it, and I encouraged friends and family to sign," he said. Echoing Glass' sentiments, Slivkanch said, "We've got to get all our members registered to vote, get their families registered and get as many people as we can out to the polls this November."

As the various speakers took the stage, their view was a surging sea of bright union T-shirts, American flags and clever homemade posters — one reading, "I couldn't afford a lobbyist, so I made this sign." Repeated chants of "Union! Union!" and "U.S.A!" accompanied the trills of whistles and vuvuzelas, the martial beat of drummers and the occasional megaphone blast.

Participants Confront Corporate Greed

But while often celebratory and colorful, the rally's tone was more serious for thousands of attendees affected by layoffs, outsourcing and corporate greed.

Dan Long of the Communications Workers of America was on hand to lend support to the thousands of Verizon workers on strike for a fair contract. Long, the president for the state's CWA Local 13000, Unit 31, said the union's "VeriGreedy" campaign — which the IBEW is participating in — dovetailed with the rally's broader goals.

"The VeriGreedy campaign definitely aligns with what we're doing today because it's all about awareness," said Long, 35. "It's about making sure the public knows that the unions aren't the problem. As corporate profits go up, the corporations still want to push us down and shove more in their own pockets. And they do that by avoiding taxes, cutting benefits and freezing wages.

"But this [rally] doesn't just speak to unions, it speaks to the whole middle class," Long said. "Hopefully today will help show the folks who don't have collective bargaining agreements that they're not alone. Unions are here to back them up and help lift them up."

Keeping Up the Pressure

While rally participants affirmed the need for the day's large-scale display of worker solidarity, many said that added momentum was needed ahead of Election Day.

"We have to keep up the pressure," said Ironworkers Local 401 member Stafan Lumpkin, who attended with fellow Philadelphia trade unionists. "We have to show the rest of the country that we are unified as a force in this nation and we take pride in what we do on the job. No matter what the [anti-worker politicians] do, we have to preserve our rights and our dignity as workers."

As the rally drew to a close and Grammy Award-winning musical guest Lucinda Williams took the stage for an hour-long set, attendees sang along to some choice covers from Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones, as well as soaked up the tales of hard-luck heroes in the singer's own compositions. Fittingly, the event culminated in a high-octane rendition of Neil Young's "Rocking in the Free World," a song that — much like the rally — takes pointed swipes at the status quo of powerful interests while reveling in a "we're-all-in-this-together" spirit.

"Workers Stand For America and the Second Bill of Rights don't belong just to Aug. 11," IBEW International President Edwin D. Hill said. "This is the platform that we will present as we move forward. Middle class families are taking hits harder than anything seen in generations. The right to vote is under attack. Our schools and bridges are crumbling, and the right to organize — while technically a law — often exists in name only inside most workplaces. This election season, we're offered a stark choice between competing ideas of America. Are we going to go the direction of austerity and defeat like Romney and Ryan want? Or are we going to vote for lawmakers who will put middle class jobs front and center? To all of us, the answer should be obvious."

You can still sign America's Second Bill of Rights. Go to

See more coverage of the rally at


Forty thousand rally goers convened at Philadelphia's historic Eakins Oval Saturday, Aug. 11, to send a message of pro-worker solidarity to both political parties ahead of their national conventions.



Colorful union shirts, American flags and poignant signs were on display at the massive rally.


The faces of America's Second Bill of Rights: Katrina Forman, left, Leann Bosquez, Bo McCurry, Clifford Glass (seated) and Helen Gym.


Katrina Forman, who spoke at the rally, is a SugarHouse casino worker who has been trying to organize her workplace in Philadelphia in a joint campaign between UNITE HERE, the Laborers and the Teamsters.