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OR Workers Trek to U.S.-Canada Border for Labor Rally

April 1, 2011

PORTLAND, Ore. - Early Saturday morning, buses of union members from Oregon will depart to join an international workers' solidarity rally on the U.S.-Canadian border, where they'll meet up with counterparts from Washington and British Columbia.

Canada is facing the same sorts of economic pressures as the United States, as well as similar controversies about balancing budgets by cutting public services and workers' benefits, says Jim Sinclair. He is president of the British Columbia Federation of Labour, which represents 450,000 workers.

"There's going to be, I think, a lot of energy there and also anger and determination, because we realize that nothing - not one thing - that we've gotten as working people, we got because they wanted to give it to us, or the wealthy wanted to turn it over to us. And we know that if we don't keep fighting, we're losing it for the next generation of people."

The Apr. 2 rally was organized to show support for public employees in Wisconsin, still embroiled in a battle with that state's governor over their right to bargain collectively. A court ruled in the workers' favor on Thursday. Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain believes Wisconsin's collective bargaining debate has raised public awareness of unions. Now, it's up to the unions to turn it into something positive, he says.

"What we're living through right now is, some folks call it a tipping point, some folks call it a fork in the road. And what's the most important, is what we do next - to get workers into a union, to protect unions' rights. What do we do next to create jobs?"

Jeff Johnson, president of the Washington State Labor Council, says state-specific issues are usually enough to keep most unions busy – but some topics are important enough for a regional effort.

"The last time we did this on a major scale was actually 1992, when we held a 'Hands Across the Borders' rally to send a shot across the bow of those in the U.S. Congress and the Canadian Legislature that were thinking of passing something called 'NAFTA.'"

The rally is also being held in support of workers in other countries facing cutbacks and economic crises. It starts at 2:00 p.m. at Peace Arch State Park, Blaine, Washington.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR