POLITICS

Labor Activists Stage Pre-Rally For The Unemployed

10/02/2010 12:06 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Hundreds of labor activists staged a pre-rally for the unemployed at RFK Stadium ahead of the One Nation Working Together event at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday.

"We believe the jobless are the swing vote in this election," said organizer Rick Sloan, who is a spokesman for the International Association of Machinists and creator of the Union of Unemployed website. "We've got to convince them who their tormentors are."

Their tormentors: Republicans in Congress who have spent much of the year obstructing unemployment benefits and other spending bills designed to help the economy. The IAM set up a huge video screen that played an outrage-soaked video with a choice soundbite from Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) talking about extending unemployment benefits. "We should not be giving cash to people who basically are just gonna blow it on drugs," Hatch said.

"They won't even toss us a lifeline unless we pee in a cup," intoned the narrator. The crowd -- hundreds of labor activists sprinkled with layoff victims, many wearing T-shirts that said "Hire US, America" -- booed lustily.

"I'll tell you what, Mr. Hatch," said Edrie Irvine of Silver Spring, Md. "I'll pee right after you do!"

(Incidentally, HuffPost did ask Hatch, who proposed drug testing the unemployed this summer, if members of Congress should also have to pee in a cup: "I don't see why members of Congress should be exempt from anything, to be honest with you," he said.)

Irvine, 58, said she lost her job as a legal secretary last October. At first, she said, she enjoyed the time off, but she gradually became more and more worried about finding work. "As time went by it wasn't as much fun anymore." She's got health insurance thanks to the stimulus bill's 65 percent subsidy for COBRA, but that will only last for a few more months. (People laid off after May 31 are ineligible for the subsidy, which was sacrificed for the appeasement of deficit hawks.)

Leroy Smith, a bus operator for the Chicago Transit Authority, told HuffPost that he and nearly 50 laid-off CTA workers came "to fight for funding to bring people back to work" -- specifically, to advocate for a bill to provide emergency funding for public transportation. They wore purple T-shirts that identified them as "Laid-off Workers."

Smith's colleague Ricky Anderson, a laid-off CTA mechanic, said, "Most of all, we want the Republicans to stop saying 'nay.'"

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