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Next Up: Young People Take Action to Address Economic Inequality

Emmelle Israel, AFL-CIO Media Outreach fellow, is in Minneapolis for the Next Up Young Workers Summit and sends us this report.

Along with 800 young workers, students, and activists, I marched down the streets of downtown Minneapolis, calling for “Good Jobs Now!” during the 2011 AFL-CIO Next Up Young Workers Summit.

The march from the summit to the City Government Plaza Light Rail Station was nearly a mile long. Next Up attendees chanted and raised signs to make their demand of “Good Jobs Now!” known the whole way.

Several taxi drivers, postal delivery workers and bus drivers honked their horns in support as the group marched to the light rail station.

Once at the City Government Plaza Light Rail Station, Jessica Hayssen of the AFL-CIO Young  Workers Advisory Committee and the Minnesota AFL-CIO MCed the rally. First up was Mike O’Brian a.k.a. OB, from Steelworkers (USW) Local 6500, who performed his original rap, “One Day  Longer.” The song was about a strike his union went through and encourages those on the picket line, telling them that “One day longer” makes them “One  day stronger.”

Next, Mike Stenberg, a Metro Transit Operator from ATU Local 1005 in Minneapolis, spoke about how the union job he has now  improved the lives of him, his wife and their two young children. He said:

I worked jobs before that were non-union. I wasn’t able to support my family… But now with Metro Transit I’m able to supply my family with a better livelihood. My American dream can come true where before I couldn’t see that happening.


Suzi Person, a glazier from Painters (IUPAT) in Philadelhia came next and spoke about how she was more than honored to be building cities, bridges, and schools alongside her brothers and sisters in the Building Trades. She called for more building to be done to address our crumbling infrastructure and get people back to work. She called out,

Get these guys off the bench and rebuild our America to what it used to be. Build it bigger, build it stronger, build it  now!

Closing out the rally was Natalie Yoon, a student from Ohio State and member of United Students Against Sweatshops. She emphasized the importance of student-labor  alliances in a time when students are  facing rising tuition, student loan debt, and an 18 percent unemployment rate for young   people. She said students want jobs with good wages and good benefits and they won’t take the current failing economic system anymore.

This is our future and we’re demanding change today!

The mobilization came after a jam-packed second day of the summit. Participants spent the morning and afternoon engaged in various plenaries and workshops discussing the severe economic reality facing their generation  as well as their ideas for creating a stronger labor movement that can fight back and create a new future for working people. They even spent their lunch working together to plan tomorrow’s Un-conference, a block of workshops and brainstorming sessions  that were created by and voted on by the attendees themselves.

But it  wasn’t a day of just talk. As Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis advised the crowd in last night’s opening remarks, “Don’t  just say it, move on it!”

The young workers, students, and organizers at the 2011 Next Up Summit are taking an active part in calling for change and creating change themselves. With two  more days to go, there will be a lot they can accomplish together.

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