11/22/07

Dem unleashes 'a litany of pro-union points' to strikers

Hundreds of picketing writers, many donning their trademark red T-shirts, welcomed Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards to their picket lines Friday outside NBC studios in Burbank.

Their supporters on hand included actress and comedian Sarah Silverman (no, she didn’t say anything witty or remotely funny to CityBeat), Assemblyman Paul Krekorian, an Edwards look-a-like, gorgeous soap actor Alex Valente, and a man dressed as a postman handing out so-called residual payments from DVD sales.

As the crowd grew to about 500 people, the endless honking from passing cars and writers’ chanting – “What do we want? Contracts! When do we want them? Now!” – became deafening.

Edwards tried to walk the picket line, but a mob of journalists and writers engulfed him, elbowing each other out of the way to get a decent photograph of the candidate. He paused twice to speak briefly about his support of workers’ rights in America. “This is about justice and fairness and equality, and ensuring those who work hard and are creative and create the products that bring us billions of dollars are actually treated fairly.”

The Writers Guild of America has been on strike since November 5 after talks concerning a new contract broke down. The Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers announced on Friday they will resume talks on November 26.

Edwards made it clear he supports the writers, saying he was proud to stand with them in their “fight for justice,” but he also turned the event into a chance to speak about the larger issue of unions and corporate conglomeration in America.

“If we actually want to strengthen and grow the middle class in this country, we need a president who understands that we can’t have big corporations taking over this government,” said Edwards, breaking into a litany of pro-union points.

He said it must be easier for unions to organize, any American worker must be able to join a union, and it must be the “law of the land” that when strikes are necessary, workers’ jobs are protected. Edwards has competed with senators and fellow presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the union vote. Several state chapters, including those in California, Iowa, and New Hampshire, of the powerful Service Employees International Union have endorsed Edwards. Clinton has received the backing of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and the American Federation of Teachers.

When asked if he wants to start a class war, as argued by presidential candidate Bill Richardson at the Democratic debate on Nov. 15, Edwards said no and responded: “There’s a class war that’s been going on by the Republicans for a long time. What they’re doing is empowering those who already have power – the richest Americans, the big corporations … . All I’m trying to do is make sure the rest of America gets a fair chance.”

The Burbank Police Department estimated the crowd at between 400 and 500 people. The strike in front of NBC studios usually attracts less than 100 a day, they said.

Though most writers CityBeat spoke with said they were still undecided concerning the election, they said they appreciated that Edwards came to their strike and addressed issues affecting workers in America.

“What he said was part of an important conversation that the country needs to have right now in terms of media ownership and protecting the middle class,” said writer Jerry Jackson.

Curtis Chin, who normally pickets at Paramount but came to NBC to see Edwards, said he liked that the candidate looked at the bigger picture, which Chin framed as “larger corporations trying to squeeze extra profits at the expense of workers.”

Other writers said Edwards’ appearance was important to them because it brought attention to their strike. “Anything that’s going to get attention for our cause is all for the best,” said writer Laura Burns. “I wish they would all come.”

Writer Sterling Anderson said Edwards’ support of the strike did influence his decision in the election. “This definitely made him on the top of my list,” he said. “This matters to me and my family.”

(lacitybeat.com)

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