"MIDDLE CLASS IS AMERICA'S NEW MINORITY" - Labor Rally Focuses On Jobs, Health Care And Education


Jesse Jackson says America's workers
are America's newest minority group

About 20,000 people stood in the sun in Charleston along the Kanawha River to hear fiery Labor Day political speeches, while many came for the free entertainment provided by Willie Nelson, Judy Collins and others.

It was the "Reinvest in America: Put America Back to Work" rally.

Rev. Jesse Jackson told the crowd that voters should not be distracted by the three g's: guns, God and gays, warning they are secondary "wedge issues" being used to distract Americans from the primary concerns of jobs, health care and education.

Jackson said America's middle class workers are America's newest minority group.

Jackson and other speakers denounced Republican California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's comment from last week's Republican National Convention: "To those critics who are so pessimistic about our economy, I say, Don't be an economic girlie-men!"

Schwarzenegger's comment was an insult to hundreds of thousands of workers whose jobs were eliminated or shipped overseas, Jackson said.

"Thirty-four steel mills have closed. Are those workers girlie-men?" Jackson asked.P> Asked what type of concert Republicans would put together, singer Willie Nelson laughed and said he'd rather not answer. Jackson replied "Schwarzenegger and the Hummers" or the "Girlie-Man Band."

Jackson said it was easy for Schwarzenegger to make such comments, indicating he did not have to toil in coal mines or on an assembly line to make a living as many other immigrants have done.

Singer Judy Collins joined Willie Nelson and
dozens of other performers for the Labor Day Rally

The crowd hovered on Kanawha Blvd. along the
Great Kanawha throughout the hot and steamy day

Protesters against the war stood motionless with
banners listing American soldiers who have died in Iraq

When Leo Gerard, president of United Steelworkers of America, asked if there was anyone better off today than they were four years ago, the crowd of thousands fell silent. "How the hell can this guy ask to be re-elected?" he asked.

Gerard also said that at least 50 million Americans have no health care and three million more people are in poverty under the Bush administration. He said the American worker's lot in life is sinking and has been sacrificed to multi-national corporations.

"When he said we've turned the corner — we were mugged by Bush and Cheney," he said.

Jackson said American workers have to compete on an uneven playing field against countries that rely on slave and child labor. Americans need better access to fair wages and the right to organize, he said.

"Most poor people in America are not on welfare," they are trying hard to make it, many holding two jobs, said Jackson. "They work every day."

Jackson said voters need to "follow the money," citing the cost of the Iraq war and the number of manufacturing jobs lost around the country and especially in West Virginia.

Jackson's plea was echoed by actor Danny Glover, labor representatives and performers including country music legend Willie Nelson, Judy Collins and the musical duo Indigo Girls.