Champaign protests for jobs

CHAMPAIGN, Ill.--A group of some 40 union and solidarity activists gathered outside the local office of Rep. Tim Johnson on August 15 to confront the Republican representative and ask for his plan to create jobs.

The rally was organized by Service Employees International Union Local 73, with activists attending representing AFSCME, the Graduate Employees' Organization (GEO), Jobs with Justice, the International Socialist Organization, the Anti-War Anti-Racism Effort and others. Participants came out to press Johnson to move away from austerity and begin to address the real crisis: the collapsed job market.

The group gathered around 4 p.m.--protesters signed comment cards and went in to try to talk to the representative, who was scheduled to be in Champaign because of the congressional recess. However, upon entering the building, we were greeted by an aide who informed us that Johnson was not in the office that day.

Protesters presented the aide with a giant novelty report card giving Johnson an "F" on job creation due to his support for the deficit "compromise." Protesters then told him to have the congressman contact us to start a dialogue with the community about the jobs situation, and we handed in our cards, one by one. Activists then headed back out to the street to hold up our signs for traffic as people left their offices at the end of the day.

The event brought out a fair number of people for the summer in a college town, with four separate waves of people going in to deliver their cards as new people arrived. As traffic picked up around 5 p.m., passersby honked and waved in support.

Many of the people who attended the protest had been to Madison, Wis., earlier this year to protest against Gov. Scott Walker and brought that energy back with them--they said they wanted to see more action locally. Attendees strategized about how to mobilize a new workers' movement to fight cutbacks and call for not only new jobs, but good, living-wage, union jobs.

The sentiment among most protesters was that we must demand jobs and reform, because Democrats and Republicans alike are solving debt crisis by imposing austerity on workers.

Hopefully, this will be only the first of such rallies here in Champaign-Urbana. With AFSCME and the GEO contract negotiations coming up soon, labor activism in the community and campus will be needed to stop further cuts locally.