By MARK UGOLINI
— CHICAGO — Over 1000 trade-union women and supporters gathered at the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) Hall on Mar. 8 to celebrate International Women’s Day and declare solidarity with women everywhere struggling to protect and extend woman’s rights.
Chairing the rally, Adriana Alvarez of Fight for $15 spoke of the struggle of woman workers against sexual harassment at Burger King and McDonalds restaurants. She reported on a demonstration earlier in the day targeting a local Burger King that woman workers charged with EEOC violations.
Context for the Mar. 8 rally were local and state government assaults on unions representing large numbers of woman. State workers represented by AFSCME recently voted overwhelmingly to strike if negotiations with Governor Bruce Rauner continue to stall. Demanding a fair contract, Charter School teachers set a strike date of Mar. 17. State worker Marion Murphy of AFSCME Local 2806 and Marines Martinez of Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff Local 4343 conveyed details of their struggles and received cheering ovations of support from the crowd.
Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 308 leader Deborah Cosey-Lane addressed the plight of Chicago transit workers who have been without a contract for over 14 months. “We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired!” she said, after describing working conditions of woman drivers, who are forced to endure unsafe and demeaning rules, working long hours, and being denied bathroom facilities and breaks.
Earlier in the day, a group of CTA women workers, participating in Woman’s Strike activities, rallied at Chicago Transit Authority offices in Chicago. Joined by other ATU members, they demanded adequate bathroom break time and improved maternity leave benefits.
A local TV station quoted CTA worker Vanessa Garcia: “It’s really important that we all should get equal treatment because we all work and we are all trying to feed our families.”
Dozens of Muslim women from the Arab American Action network joined the CTU rally, and were represented by Rasmea Odeh, who addressed the crowd. A prominent figure in the Palestinian national liberation movement, Odeh in 1969 was subjected to sexual abuse and psychological torture while confined in an Israeli military prison. She endured intense abuse for three weeks, and was coerced into a false confession of involvement in Jerusalem bombings. As a result, her U.S. citizenship was revoked in 2014; her deportation is currently under review by an immigration court.
To a standing ovation Odeh declared: “I stand before you as a 50-year survivor of sexual abuse at the hands of the Israeli military.” She urged supporters to attend an upcoming court hearing in Detroit on April 4 to protest the false charges and stop deportation proceedings.
Other speakers at the March 8 rally included Karen Lewis, President of the Chicago Teachers Union (opening remarks); Christel Williams, CTU; Liz Radford, Woman’s March of Chicago; Alyx Goodwin, Black Youth Project 100; Faith Arnold, SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana; and Katie Thiede, Planned Parenthood.
Photo by Guy Miller: Opal Staples sings at CTU meeting hall on March 8.