Friday, January 29, 2010

Teens testify ‘We want jobs’

By Pepe Lozano

CHICAGO, Ill.— According to 18-year-old African American Gabrielle Banks, having a job as a young person these days, is more than just an opportunity to gain experience in the workforce or build skills. A job is critical, right now, because it helps provide for the basic necessities at home, she said.

"I used my checks to help buy things for my house such as cleaning supplies and groceries, so that would be one less burden on my mom considering that she has the only household income," she adds.

Banks was speaking at a Youth Hearing on Education, Jobs and Justice here Jan. 26.

She and dozens of students from schools throughout the city testified before hundreds of their peers including a panel of national, state and local elected officials and community leaders. The students came to tell their personal stories about how the impact of rising joblessness among teens and young adults continues to plague their communities.

The youth along with local community groups and educators are urging lawmakers to support legislation that will allocate more federal funding toward summer and year-round employment opportunities for youth here and across the country.

"We want jobs - but jobs alone are not enough!" said Banks. "We need help... more help. We need leadership, job security and stability."

Young people need role models and trainers to help direct us and allow us the opportunities to gain the tools we need in order to become productive members of society, she said.

Banks held a summer job for the last two years, which she said has helped her grow as a young and healthy person.

"I loved my job!" she said. "And I loved getting checks!"

Banks continued, "If more students were able to get trained for jobs, work and maintain jobs - that alone would eliminate the need for kids to sell drugs and rely on the streets for other sources of income." The employment of teens is very important and should be widely offered, she said.

A new report by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, commissioned by the Alternative Schools Network, was presented at the hearing. According to the report the number of U.S. and Illinois employment rates for teens and young adults are at historic lows.

Marking a new low for the state the employment rate for Illinois teens in 2009 was more than 20 percentage points below 2000. Experts say youth who spend substantial time away from school and work run a greater risk of being jobless, poor or incarcerated by their early and mid-20s.

Employment rates among teens dropped sharply across all gender, race, family-income groups and education levels in the state. Teens from low-income, minority families and high school dropouts fared the worst in the state and in Chicago.

Among African Americans, the number of working teens fell from 21 percent in 2000 to 18 percent in 2007. It plunged to 12 percent from January through November of last year.

Among Latinos, it dropped from 41 percent in 2000 to 27 percent in 2007 and stood at 30 percent last year.

Among whites, employment dropped from 57 percent in 2000 to 45 percent in 2007 and 33 percent last year.

Experts add, teens are competing with 20- to 24 year-olds who don't have four-year degrees and are holding onto jobs they had as teens mostly at retail stores, restaurants and in the leisure and hospital industries. And both groups are competing with adults 55 and over, they note. Employment among those 55 and older rose 5.4 percentage points from 2000 to 2009 - the only category to show an increase.

In 2008 in the city of Chicago, only 15 percent of Black teens were working compared to 30 percent of Latinos and 33 percent of whites. Among 16- to 24-year-olds, 27 percent of Blacks and 17 percent of Latinos were out of school and work in 2008.

Among high school students, only 12 percent in Chicago and 27 percent statewide were working in 2008.

The report, "The Lost Decade for Teen and Young Adult Employment in Illinois: The Current Depression in the Labor Market for 16-24 Year Olds in the Nation and State," is based on analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau data.

The Chicago Urban League, the Alternative Schools Network and other advocates organized the hearing and are calling for the allocation of $1.5 billion in federal stimulus money for youth employment and re-enrollment programs across the nation. Such initiatives should include expanding state and federal government high school internship and school-to-career opportunities, they say.

They add lawmakers should support the "Youth Jobs Act of 2010" introduced by U.S. Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash. The bill would provide $1.5 billion through the Workforce Investment Act to stimulate local economies by building on and expanding the Recovery Act youth employment program.

"No other age group has experienced such steep employment declines in the current recession," said Herman Brewer, acting president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League. "Low-income and minority youth who depended on part-time jobs as a significant stepping stone to future employment have been forced out of the job market and economically marginalized," he said.

Student after student told their personal stories about why young people need jobs to stay off the streets and help their families pay expenses. One student said some youth rely on prostitution, joining gangs, selling drugs or theft as their only option in order to make money. Others said city schools in general need better funding that incorporates new textbooks, computers, sports and recreational programs.

We're all in the same boat, said Mexican American student Diana Pilar.

"For young people like myself this is a big issue," she said. "People need to make money to survive and pay for college costs. And we can't depend on our parents because even they don't have jobs."

Roxanne Nava is the assistant director with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and said her group fully supports the demands presented at the hearing.

"Our number one goal is keeping and growing jobs and growing a world class workforce," said Nava. "A job gives you hope and direction and allows young people an opportunity to succeed. So many times we tell young people to study hard and get a good job but what's really at the end of that line." This issue is a bipartisan one and we need to support federal job programs for young people, she said.

Others said when young people are working it helps generate economic activity and community development. Some said putting teens and young adults back to work is really a matter of national security and will help provide kids with practical alternatives. Federal funding for national jobs programs is a great investment for young people and the future of America, they note.

"Youth are starving for job opportunities," said Miriam G. Martinez, youth innovation fund director with the Mikva Challenge.

"Some youth are the only financial providers for their families," she said. When youth are asked how they can improve their lives and their communities, more jobs are always at the top of their lists, she said.

"Our youth just want a chance and we are asking that the federal government invest in our youth," said Martinez. "If our federal government can invest billions in saving the banks and the financial institutions then they should also invest in the future of America's youth."

Executive Director of the Alternative Schools Network Jack Wuest said, "We need a broader stimulus plan to engage disconnected youth who are discouraged and dropping out of the job market."

Wuest continued, "The recent jobs bill, while a start, is unlikely to have a substantial affect on the record of youth joblessness. Job creation, particularly for teens and young adults, has to be a priority for 2010 if we are to prevent a second economic downturn."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

In Illinois, high-speed rail seen as economic engine

By Pepe Lozano

CHICAGO, Ill. - In an effort to boost local and statewide economic development Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said they are committed to improving passenger and freight rail operations in Illinois. Their initiatives include high-speed rail and making Illinois an inland port and transportation hub for the Midwest.

Both Quinn and Durbin led talks at "Beyond Transportation: The Economic Impact of Rail in Illinois," a summit last week where they pledged to develop high-speed rail and improving current rail infrastructure as priorities. Both said they would continue advocating for much-needed economic development and creating green jobs across the state through plans for high-speed rail.

The event brought together experts from across the country to discuss a rail policy and economic development. Several panel discussions were held on local development, sustainability, manufacturing and connectivity in the global economy.

"One of the most important contributions the freight and passenger rail industries provide to Illinois is good-paying jobs that support families and help pay for college," said Durbin. "For that reason and many others, we need to invest in rail as we strengthen our nation's economy."

Durbin said the ideas shared at the summit would help keep Illinois at the forefront of the railroad renaissance the state's currently undergoing.

Rick Harnish is the executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, which represents Illinois, Missouri and seven other states. Speaking to the World by phone, Harnish said he welcomes Quinn and Durbin's initiatives. Quinn is the first Midwest governor to support trains that would travel at speeds of 220 miles an hour, he notes.

"Most travel by people is done by cars these days but it's expensive and slow," said Harnish. "If we build faster trains people will have the advantages of lower costs and quicker travel times."

Harnish adds it's important that Quinn and Durbin are taking a strong leadership role on this issue.

"It's critical to our economic future," he said. "The big picture is that we're very spread out and trains have the ability to bring people together."

Using trains rather than cars or airplanes is less expensive, better for the environment and limits travel times, said Harnish. Plus it's more productive and innovative, he notes. At the same time, trains connect people to the international community coming and going from Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, he adds.

"Trains are about 10 times more efficient than using automobiles and are a lot better for the atmosphere," he said. "It really makes a huge difference when people use trains."

High-speed trains would build stronger local communities and allows people to walk more, said Harnish. But we have to start planning now, he says.

"It's critical to continue urging lawmakers to support investing in high-speed rail."

Supporters of the track and train upgrades say building faster and more efficient trains is beyond transportation, it's about building communities, they note.

Under the Midwest plan, Chicago would be a transportation hub connecting major cities including St. Louis, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Cleveland and Cincinnati.

President Barack Obama and Congress have voiced their support and recently appropriated $8 billion to improve rail service and another $5 billion for high-speed rail. The amount of funds will be awarded to states sometime before the spring.

Illinois has submitted two rounds of applications for up to $3 billion in federal stimulus funding from the U.S. department of Transportation for high-speed rail. Illinois and nearby states are hoping to receive a major portion of the funding to upgrade track and other infrastructure for 110-mph train service starting in the next three to five years.

Additionally, through the Illinois Jobs Now! Plan, the state is poised to make the largest investment in rail infrastructure in the Illinois' history.

Long-term plans in Illinois call for trains traveling at up to 220 mph.

Chicago rallies for full citizenship, equality and jobs for all

By John Bachtell
CHICAGO - Religious, civil rights, and labor leaders and activists packed an historic African American church here to rally for immigration reform and jobs for all. The event was geared to unite African American and Latino communities for action on both issues.

The event, “Full Citizenship and Full Employment for Full Equality” was held Jan. 16 at the First Baptist Congregational Church, in commemoration of Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King’s birthday. The church, founded in 1851 by abolitionists, had hosted among others Rev. King, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.

With the battle for immigration reform heating up in Congress, broad all people’s unity will be needed to pass any legislation. There is especially concern over efforts to divide economically hard hit African Americans and Latinos by blaming immigrants for jobs lost by African Americans during this crisis.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (IL), the chief sponsor of immigration reform legislation in the House of Representatives blasted efforts by the ultra right to sow divisions on the jobs issue and called for unity.

“They’re telling African Americans that (Latinos are) taking your jobs,” said Gutierrez. He noted that among the first co-sponsors were African American Reps. John Conyers, Charles Rangel and Maxine Waters. About three-quarters of the Congressional Black Caucus are backing the bill.

Others also sought to show the common interests between the two communities and the need to join forces as the only way to uplift everyone.

“Like so many in the African American community, immigrants often have no option but to work for an unsustainable wage,” declared Auxiliary Bishop Rev. John R. Manz, of the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago.

Organizers of the event sited a new report by Dr. Raul Hinojas-Ojeda of the Center for American Progress and Immigrant Policy center that sees immigration reform as an economic benefit for the country. The study says comprehensive reform with a path to citizenship would result in $1.5 trillion in economic growth and raise the wage floor for the entire US economy.

The need for rebuilding the nation’s economy while overcoming inequality was the underlying theme. Brady Hardin, of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, reminded the audience the 1963 march on Washington was officially named the “National March for Jobs and Freedom.”

In paying tribute to Dr. King, the Rev Jesse Jackson of the National Rainbow PUSH Coalition recounted a meeting called by King that fell on his last birthday. King had called to Atlanta a broad multiracial cross section of religious, labor and community leaders. The gathering resulted in the “Coalition of Conscience” which led to the Poor People’s March on Washington.

An underlining idea was there “couldn’t be full employment on the Black side of town with rising unemployment on the Latino side of town or the white side of town. We needed jobs or income for every American,” he remembered.

Jackson said a similar crisis situation exists today as did in 1968 marked by vast concentration in wealth, arrogance on Wall Street, spreading poverty and war sucking vital resources from distressed communities.

“Now is the time for jobs or income and comprehensive immigration reform and an end to the war. Let’s march together for jobs, to reconstruct Haiti. Let’s not allow ourselves to be torn apart with an insane, raggedy, immoral immigration plan,” said Jackson.

There were several calls for a federal public works jobs program. Hardin recalled during the Great Depression the “federal government took the bull by the horns and created the Works Project Administration (WPA). This put people back to work and we need the same action in Washington now.”

“The private markets are not hiring so its time for the government to help people and not just the banks and stock exchange,” he said. Hardin also drew attention to HR 4268, entitled the “Put America to Work Act of 2009” introduced by Rep. Keith Ellison (MN). The bill calls for $40 billion in funding over 2 years to create jobs in distressed communities.

Gutierrez noted the growth of the Latino vote was a big factor in the election of President Barack Obama in 2008. He said expectations were high that Democrats would follow through on their promise for immigration reform. Gutierrez said the process would begin with or without Republicans but warned essentials of a just immigration reform wouldn’t be compromised.

“We will not create a comprehensive immigration reform that will demobilize our people,” he said. “We have to get it done because we can’t have a Democratic administration that deported more people than George Bush.”

Both Gutierrez and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL) noted reform in immigration law in the wake of the unspeakable tragedy in Haiti, now grants temporary protective status to Haitian workers. Haitian refugees are now allowed to obtain work permits and send money home.

“Dr. King said the arc of the universe bends toward justice. But we know it doesn’t necessarily bend on its own. Sometimes it takes what we’ve been doing to make it bend toward justice,” said Schakowsky. “We marched, we voted and now its time to change the law,” she said.

Labor leaders and activists also spoke out forcefully for both jobs and immigration reform. Declaring this was the year to fix an unjust immigration system, Tom Balanoff, President of the Service Employees International Union Local 1 said, “People who work hard to feed their families shouldn’t be punished. There’s no justice, no equality, and no freedom unless there is justice, equality and freedom for all.”

Raul Real and Major Nunn, two workers fired from Pete’s Fresh Market trying to organize a union with the United Food and Commercial Workers described how the company crassly pitted Mexican American and African American workers to keep wages low and the union out.

“We can’t allow workers to be divided. We need comprehensive immigration reform and a federal jobs program that our communities so desperately need,” said Nunn. He later told the People’s World comprehensive immigration reform would help in ending wage discrimination.

Several thousand dollars was raised at the rally for Haitian relief.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Chicago Freedom Movement: Summer 1966

By Carolyn Black and Bill Appelhans

The impact of the 1966 Chicago Freedom Movement on the decade's civil rights struggles was as significant as any other campaign of that era. By bringing the freedom struggle to Chicago, where the Democratic Party machine was closely linked to the national party and the White House of President Lyndon Johnson, the movement raised the bar and gave the struggle for equality a national focus.

It was a time when thousands were on the move. Calling for an end to Jim Crow in public accommodations, they boycotted the city bus system in Montgomery, Alabama. They sat in at lunch counters across the South, demanding service.

National guardsmen and federal troops were protecting children who were breaking down the walls of segregated schools. Black and white teams of youth had gone south to challenge poll taxes and organize voter registration drives. "Whites Only" signs were being torn down.

People from all walks of life were getting involved in the struggle to eliminate the legacies of slavery. Although the struggle took on many forms and covered diverse areas of the South, it came to be called simply the "movement." To say someone or some organization was "part of the movement" was to say it all.

Made up of many diverse groups, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), founded by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rev. Ralph Abernathy in the mid-1950s, sparked the imagination of civil rights supporters everywhere.

As its prestige grew far beyond its numbers, the SCLC and its leaders became the spark plug that ignited mass protests across the South, bringing the demands of the movement to the attention of the nation as scenes of snarling police dogs flashed on screens television.

King and Abernathy decided to bring the movement "up south" and the search for a place to begin brought them to Chicago. There they found the ingredients they were seeking: a substantial base of support among both white and Black ministers, a base of Black and white activists, steeled in struggles against racist hiring practices, police brutality and racial discrimination in housing and education.

As important as any other consideration, the struggle for equality enjoyed the support of important sections of organized labor – Region 4 of the United Auto Workers (UAW) and the Packinghouse Union, both led by African Americans.

In addition, many individual leaders and rank-and-file activists had long been associated with the civil rights movement. SCLC planners noted that Walter Reuther, the UAW president, walked arm in arm with King at the 1963 March on Washington. King and other SCLC leaders saw these as the essential elements of a successful campaign.

Thus was born the Chicago Freedom Movement (CFM), with King and Al Raby, a leader of Chicago's Coordinating Committee of Community Organizations (CCCO), its co-chairs. CFM activities and policies were determined by an committee made up of representatives of the city's diverse civil rights organizations.

SCLC dispatched field staff to help lay the groundwork. In the spring of 1966, King, his wife and their children moved into an apartment on the west side of Chicago and the campaign of the summer of 1966, with its demand to end slums, began in earnest.

Richard J. Daley, Chicago's "shoot -to-kill" mayor, made known his displeasure that "outside troublemakers" were coming to the city and told all who would listen there were no slums in Chicago. He also declared that he would not meet with King, thus drawing a line in the sand.

For those who were to lead the summer campaign, these statements were ominous. The nation and the world were to soon learn what they already knew -- that the likes of Bull Connor, Lester Maddox and George Wallace had their counterparts in the Richard J. Daleys of Chicago and other northern cities.

During the summer of 1966 the movement staged a number of marches in white communities protesting housing discrimination, a practice generally accomplished by red-lining and block-busting.

Although the marchers were pledged to non-violence, the community was not. Each march saw an escalation of violence, until the chief of police asked city hall to seek an injunction because his resources were being stretched.

The ferocity and scope of the violence that met the marchers was unmatched by any previous attacks anywhere. King was felled when struck in the head with a stone during a barrage of assorted missiles. Marchers feared for their lives when their parked automobiles were rolled over and their tires flattened, set on fire and some pushed into a small lake in the park. Many feared that without their cars there was no way to escape the crowd when the demonstration ended and, with nightfall coming, they could be in mortal danger.

By summer's end Daley had to back down. After several face-to-face meetings with CFM leaders, he agreed to negotiate an agreement and appointed a 19-member committee chaired by Thomas Ayers, head of Commonwealth Edison, the giant utility company.

King and Raby headed the movement's six-member team. The real estate board had two members, the religious and liberal community four. Others included one each from the City of Chicago, the Chicago Federation of Labor and the Chicago Commercial Club.

Eventually a 10-point agreement was signed that called for various measures to strengthen the enforcement of existing laws and regulations with respect to housing. The city would enforce its 1963 open housing ordinances and Daley agreed to work for state open housing legislation.

The real estate board agreed to end its "philosophical" opposition to open housing, while the city housing authority agreed to seek "scattered sites" for public housing.

Cook County promised to provide "the best housing available" for those receiving public assistance and a similar pledge was made by city agencies for those dislocated by urban renewal projects.

Savings and loan associations and mortgage institutions agreed to make money available on an equal opportunity basis. Others pledged efforts to educate their members and the public on the importance of the measures outlined in the agreement.

King called the agreement "the first step in a thousand-mile journey" and "one of the most important programs ever conceived to make open housing a reality."

Daley said he was "satisfied that the people of Chicago and its suburbs ... will accept the program in light of the people who endorsed it."

Others thought the campaign a failure because the agreement contained so little, especially in the area of enforcement. Still others downplayed its significance because of the misconception that "success" can only be measured by the size of the "trophy."

Not only did the Chicago Freedom Movement forever change the way the people of Chicago lived, it highlighted the tremendous problems that would confront the movement as it sought to bring the struggle to the big cities of the North. The strategy and tactics of the southern Black Freedom struggle, where segregation and discrimination were open and labeled with signs, had to be reworked when applied to the de facto injustices of the big northern cities.

The agreement won by the summer campaign of the Chicago Freedom Movement in 1966 was a work in progress, one that confirmed, once again, that freedom is a constant struggle.

Carolyn Black was a member of the SCLC staff who worked in Chicago during the summer of 1966. Bill Appelhans was a member of the Du Bois Clubs in Chicago at that time.


An interview with Bill Hogan

Keep your eyes on the prize

Bill Hogan, then Father William Hogan, remembers the Summer of 1966. Well he should, having served as recording secretary of the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO), the group that, together with Martin Luther King, Jr. Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), formed the Chicago Freedom Movement (CFM), which led the massive civil disobedience direct action campaign of the summer of 1966 in Chicago.

Hogan said that while King was "first among equals," the composition of the CFM staff was exceptional and reflected the scope of the movement: James Bevel, C.T. Vivian, Al Sampson, James Orange, Jesse Jackson and Andrew Young, who went on to become mayor of Atlanta and later U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

"All were veterans of major battles in the South," he said, adding that key players from Chicago included Edwin "Bill" Berry of the Urban League, Bob Lucas of CORE and Carl Fuqua of the NAACP.

"In addition to traditional civil rights organizations, CFM included representatives from the religious and liberal communities. Some of the unions affiliated with AFL-CIO Industrial Union Department provided staff assistance."

Hogan told of the long hours spent in meetings: "We planned demonstrations, discussed how to deal with police harassment and confrontations with the Nazis and, eventually, negotiations with then-Mayor Richard J. Daley."

There was always the question of welding the conflicting views and goals of individuals and their organizations. Through it all, Hogan was there busily taking notes.

“Can you imagine – 25 strong-willed people with as many ideas of what should be done. Try reflecting all of that in the minutes!”

Hogan said there were many lessons to be drawn from the Chicago events of 1966, one of them embodied in the song "Keep Your Eye on the Prize."

"Although that song, as were others, was generally seen as a morale builder meant to strengthen resolve, we in the CFM saw it in a different context, Hogan said. "If we were to build our coalition, if we were to keep it together in the face of contending forces, goals, ideas and yes, personalities, we had to keep our eye on the prize. But first we had to define the prize -- to decide where we were trying to go and how to get there. Both were tests of our coalition-building ability."

Over the course of countless demonstrations and picket lines, the "prize" was established: open housing and school desegregation.

"The two were really two sides of the same coin," Hogan said. "Segregated housing patterns guaranteed segregated schools, with all that implies for quality education." As a consequence of that decision, he said, they made real estate companies their main focus, together with insisting on the right to use the city's parks.

Hogan said some of the lessons of the CFM and the civil rights struggles of the ‘60s are applicable today. "Non-violent mass action can work, as witness the civil rights laws of 1964, 1965 and 1967, and it is applicable to many struggles, as witness the movement that forced an end to the war in Vietnam."

He said today's prize is the defeat of the ultra-right. "They've opened a no-holds-barred attack on our living standards, on the victories won in years of struggles and the democratic institutions that are the foundation of our society. The only way they can be defeated is by building a broad-based coalition of the victims and intended victims of that attack."

-- Fred Gaboury

Photo: News photo showing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and his wife Coretta, waving from the Chicago apartment building where they lived during the 1966 campaign. On the far right is author Carolyn Black.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Communist Party Convention kicks off with a discussion of the issues of the day

The Communist Party USA is pleased to announce its 29th National Convention, to be held May 21-23, 2010 in New York City. The Convention is a time for the party to elect its leaders, set policies and discuss the important issues of the day. It is an important and exciting meeting at a critical time in our country's history.

To build for the Convention, we are hosting a four-month long discussion period beginning Thursday, January 21. Members of the Communist Party, our friends and allies, and anyone else are encouraged share their thoughts about the many issues and struggles working families face today: from the fight for peace and against the wars, the fightback against the economic crisis, the movement to halt environmental destruction and more. We will employ a number of venues for the discussion nationally and locally. Check out for more information.

The kick-off event of the Convention discussion period will be a live video presentation by Communist Party Chair Sam Webb. Everyone is welcome to participate via phone or Internet connection. There will be time for Mr. Webb to answer a few short questions at the end of the presentation. If you would like to submit questions ahead of time, please send them to You will be able to ask questions via chat and Twitter during the event as well.

If you cannot participate in the live event, the video will be available for viewing afterward.

Convention Discussion Presentation
with Communist Party Chair Sam Webb
Thurs, Jan 21, 2010
8pm Eastern time

To watch the live streaming video, visit our Video Channel. (Visit Ustream for technical details)

To participate by phone, call (605) 475-4850. dial 1053538# once you've dialed in.
(Long distance fees from your carrier will apply.)

Haitians holds onto life as help mounts

By John Wojcik
People's World/Nuestro Mundo

The task for millions today in Haiti is to try to stay alive until help arrives and to try to save those injured in the earthquake.

The first overseas aid came today when an Air China plane with a Chinese search-and-rescue team, medics and other emergency workers landed at Port-au-Prince airport. Cuba, which already had hundreds of doctors in Haiti, treated injured people in makeshift field hospitals.

The Red Cross said that 3 million people, a third of the Haitian population, are in need of disaster relief.

The United States and many other nations said they will send food, water and medical supplies to the Caribbean island nation, the poorest in the Western hemisphere. Haitian President Rene Preval issued an urgent call, "Parliament has collapsed. The tax office has collapsed. Schools have collapsed. Hospitals have collapsed."

The U.S. labor movement has already jumped into the disaster relief effort on several fronts.

National Nurses United issued an urgent call last night through its nationwide disaster relief network to recruit nurse volunteers to assist the earthquake-devastated nation where many thousands are feared dead. "We are calling on nurses throughout the U.S. to join us in this critical effort," said NNU Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro.

More than 3,400 registered nurses from across the U.S. have responded in less than one day, so far and the union is asking the public to help pay for travel costs involved in the emergency nursing mission.

Those able to support the effort are asked to call 1-800-578-8225.

In New York, the Transport Workers Union has assigned Georges Exceus, its chief organizer, to coordinate union relief efforts through centralized collection points all over the east coast. The union has begun a massive effort to collect clothing, food and other essential supplies.

The Firefighters Union has dispatched search and rescue teams from Fairfax County, Va. And Los Angeles County, Calif., made up of members of two of its locals to Haiti and plans to send additional teams.

The aid group Doctors Without Borders treated wounded at two hospitals that withstood the quake and set up tent clinics elsewhere to replace its damaged facilities

President Obama said the U.S. humanitarian effort will include military and civilian emergency teams from across the country. The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson is expected to arrive off the coast of Haiti today and the Navy said the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan has been ordered to sail for the country with 2,000 Marines. "We have to be there for them in their hour of need," Obama said.

Secretary of State Clinton said today that the administration will provide long-term assistance to help Haiti recover. "This is going to be a long-term effort," Clinton said on NBC's Today Show. "We have the immediate crisis of trying to save those lives that can be saved, to deal with the injured, to try to provide food, water, medical supplies and some semblance of shelter."

Labor and human rights organizations applauded the administration's move to suspend deportations of Haitians currently in the United States, in view of the crisis.

Since January 2009, U.S. immigration judges have issued deportation orders to over 30,000 undocumented Haitians. Activists have been calling on the government to grant Temporary Protected Status to Haitians in recent years. TPS is granted by the United States to eligible nationals of countries that cannot safely return to their homelands because of armed conflict, environmental disaster, or other extraordinary or temporary conditions. Activists say Haiti clearly fit that description for a while.

The right wing in the United States is using the disaster to foment racism and hatred. The evangelical preacher Pat Robertson laid the blame for the earthquake on Haitians themselves, saying the country "swore a pact to the devil" by ending slavery and escaping French rule in the 18th century.

"Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it," Robertson said yesterday on his Christian Broadcasting Network show, the 700 Club. Haitians were originally "under the heel of the French. You know, Napolean the third, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact with the devil," said the former presidential candidate.

"They said, 'We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.' True story. And so the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.' Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing or another."

Historians say the Haitian uprising was one of the most important slave revolts in history, resulting in the creation of the first country in the Americas to be ruled by African descendants.

Stanford University professor and historian John Chester Miller notes in his book, "The Wolf By the Ears: Thomas Jefferson and Slavery," that the Haitian slave revolt, rather than being a "pact with the devil," was a key factor in helping stabilize and strengthen the newly formed United States of America.

Were it not for Haiti, Miller points out, the course of U.S. history would have been different with the country possibly never expanding much beyond the Appalachian Mountains.

The Haitian revolutionaries tied up and defeated a huge French Army slated, after "mopping up" the rebellion in Haiti, to re-establish, via New Orleans, a French empire in the United States. Fearing this, Alexander Hamilton, Miller notes, collaborated with leaders of the Haitian slave revolt.

Other historians note the U.S. role in recent times includes propping up the dictators "Papa Doc" and "Baby Doc" Duvalier, destabilizing the progressive-oriented Aristide governments, and even ordering armed intervention.

The AFL-CIO sent out the following information to help life-saving efforts in Haiti. Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker writes, "Haiti is a scene of unimaginable devastation and human tragedy today. Please do all you can to help Haitians survive Tuesday's massive earthquake by donating to one of the service organizations listed here.

"I know this is a tough time for many of you. But we show our true character by helping those in greater need than ourselves even when it is hard.

"Union members and other working family activists are the most giving, selfless people I know. Can the people of Haiti count on you today?"

The following is the AFL-CIO list. Other suggestions can be found here.

Doctors Without Borders:

Partners in Health:

Red Cross International Response Fund:

RN Response Network

Solidarity Center Education Fund:

United Way Worldwide Disaster Fund:

For updates on union efforts, follow the AFL-CIO Now blog: