The event, sponsored by Working America and the AFL-CIO, featured AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka and New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, along with other guest speakers.
"I think the country is headed into a dark time," Herbert said in his remarks. "The scale of remedies Obama and the Democrats have come up with are not sufficient to the size of the problem." At the same time, he later told the audience, "I can't impress upon people how important it is to vote."
"We need to build an economy that works for everyone," said Trumka. "People are frustrated and angry and confused about who is to blame. Wall Street is to blame, not Obama."
The meeting was not organized to allow participation from the more than 400 in attendance. Instead, panelists chose questions from written cards.
"In my opinion the speakers offered no answers, just get out the vote for Democrats," Gerald Bollinger, a former member of Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, told Fein. "There was nothing on how to take action."
"The labor movement needs to take action," agreed Fein. "We need to mobilize in the face of unrelenting assaults by the employers and their partiesthe Republicans and Democrats."
Fein pointed to some of the immediate measures the SWP is calling for along with demands that the labor movement needs to champion: unemployment payments for as long as a worker is without a job; a massive federal public works program to put millions to work; shorten the workweek with no cut in pay to provide more jobs; legalization of all undocumented workers.
"The billionaire families in this country constitute a dictatorship of capital; we need to replace it with workers power," said Fein, as Bollinger purchased a copy of the book Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, by Jack Barnes, and signed up for a Militant subscription.
A promotional article for the September 24 meeting raised the question, "Will the Glenn Becks and Sarah Palins of the world exploit that justifiable anger at an economy that isn't working for all into a November election win? Or, will working-class voters see that a right-wing and Republican victory is an open door to the economic policies of the past that drove the economy in the ditch?"
In response to the discussion about why some workers and middle-class layers are attracted to the tea party and its candidates, Herbert said, "What drives the tea party is the economic crisis which faces the country. It's not racism."
Campaigning among the crowd, Sarah Robinett, SWP candidate for U.S. Senate from New York, spoke to a man who used to work on Wall Street for Bank of America. He was laid off and now drives an Access-a-Ride van for those who are not able to take mass transportation. "This meeting didn't have anything to offer," he said.
"Many people turning out for events like the Glenn Beck rally have taken blows due to the economic crisis and are looking for answers. They don't see any strong working-class voice from the labor movement," Robinett said. "You can't make capitalism work better. The Socialist Workers Party campaign is about discussing how workers can organize to take power, and when we raise our ideas we find a response."
"The answer is not to vote for the lesser evil, Robinett told a member of the Transport Workers Union. "I recommend you campaign for the SWP, but more than that, the socialist candidates urge workers to campaign for a labor party based on a fighting union movement."
Socialists: End spying and disruption!
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