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Corporate America Has a Lot to Answer For

A speech given by Jim Hard, director of SEIU Local 1000, AFL-CIO at the Headwaters Rally September 14, 1997

Sisters and Brothers; all my relations; hello! Thanks to the organizers for inviting me to this great event. But I hope that this is the last year that we have to come here to demonstrate, because by next year, we should be celebrating that the Headwaters has been protected, and we can return to admire that which we have preserved. I bring you greetings from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1000 (AFL-CIO), The California State Employees Association, representing over 86,000 state workers in California. And we've never seen the Headwaters Forest; were not allowed to visit this national treasure. Although I understand that some of you have.

I live in Sacramento, where our daily newspaper sometimes has articles about the confusing negotiations about the fate of Headwaters, but I've never seen anything about the necessity for its preservation. I haven't seen any TV programs about the Headwaters, because the idea of saving the Headwaters doesn't have a corporate sponsor.

And today, I hope our numbers will put the Headwaters issue in the newspapers and on the TV screens across this country. It's important that you and I are here today. As in so many working class issues and I consider protecting the environment a working class issue--our strength is in our numbers. Its our numbers versus corporate legal staff. It's us against corporate media. It's us against corporate greed. Our adversaries are powerful, but history shows they can be defeated.

In the early 70s, before coming up here and attending Humboldt State University (HSU), I was an organizer for the United Farm Workers (UFW). Then as now we had a just cause and powerful corporate adversaries. We fought on many fronts and we prevailed. And the farm workers won their right to organize. The fight to save the Headwaters is being fought on many fronts. Today in this field, but also with direct action up in the woods. In the courts and by all of us wherever we happen to be. My union recently took up the issue of Headwaters and MAXXAM Corporation at our executive board meeting. We passed a motion requesting the [California] Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS), the largest retirement system in the United States, to divest their 318,000 shares from MAXXAM contingent upon results of Headwaters negotiations. The State Teachers Retirement Fund has already done that.

Our unions concern for the Headwaters and MAXXAM represents a new labor union direction. For too long, unions restricted their activities to work-site issues. Familiar issues, such as hourly pay, job safety, medical benefits; these are basic issues, and we continue to address them. However, our members do not live on their jobs, they live with their families and communities, and they expect clean air, clean water, and that our country's natural resources will be protected. I believe that unions must also address these important issues.

There are many battles to be fought for those of us attempting to protect the quality of life for working people. Right now, [Governor] Pete Wilson and his corporate allies are working to change how the state does business, to a process they call contracting out. They want corporations to take over the roles traditionally performed by public agencies. You might think that doesn't affect you, but just think about it. If Wilson is successful, instead of public agencies being stewards of our resources, we could have corporations. I don't want MAXXAM being the stewards of our forests, nor do I want Chevron Corporation replacing the Air Resources Board, or Bechtel Corporation doing the work of the California Coastal Commission. Our union is fighting Wilson on this issue and if we're successful, our members and the public will benefit. The environment will benefit.

We in the union movement share with you the difficulty of unsympathetic courts and we know Corporate America is not in a negotiating mood. When all else fails, we use direct action to win our strikes. The recent successful Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) workers [SEIU 790] strike and the Teamster's strike against UPS showed that unions must return to their roots of direct action, and that Americans are beginning to recognize the danger of a corporate run country. A country which an elite have reaped the profits of our labor, while pillaging our national resources. Corporate America has polluted our air and water, undermined our regulatory agencies, exported our jobs, and perverted the political process. I think Corporate America has a lot to answer for.

What you're doing is preventing another corporate atrocity. Because of you, there still is a Headwaters. I support your efforts to save what remains of this ecosystem, and promise to carry the Headwaters issue with me into the labor movement. Thank you!

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