The March of the Rats

In The Key of Solidarity

Volume C, No. 7/8July, 2000

Ray Chew & the Crew and Stanley Banks’ jazz band rocked the crowd at a June 15 rally in Union Square, drawing attention to rat-like behavior by New York City employers who try to block workers’ right to organize. In addition to the hundreds of union members who thronged the north end of the square on a sweltering afternoon, the guests of honor were a dozen huge inflatable rats that have become the trademark of the city’s labor movement.

Each rodent bore the name of an anti-union firm – including Time Warner, which is dealing unfairly with the Communications Workers at an upstate cable system and is also a corporate patron of the Apollo Theatre, where Ray Chew & the Crew are fighting to organize with Local 802. Other rats represented New York University, which is trying to block its graduate teaching assistants’ organizing efforts and using a nonunion contractor for a major building project, and Planned Building Services, a large non-union cleaning company that pays as little as $6.25 an hour.

The event was one of dozens around the country that week as unions highlighted the challenges workers face in trying to exercise their fundamental right to organize.