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A Mother's Day gift

GEORGE GRESHAM 1199SEIU President | 5/3/2012, 4:34 p.m.
George Gresham, President 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East

It is said that women hold up half the world, but they most certainly don't have half the power or half the wealth.

Women workers in our country earn 77.4 cents for every dollar men earn, the National Committee for Pay Equity informs us. The numbers are worse for African-American women, 67.5 cents, and Latinas, just 58.7 cents.

The gender wage gap is just one manifestation of women's second-class status, and if extreme Republican lawmakers have their way, all the gains of women's struggles would become history. This war against women is a key component of the Republican strategy to cripple the coalition of forces that can loosen the corporate grip on our nation.

Those same forces that seek to "put women in their place" are the same folks who want to do the same with unions, immigrants, environmentalists, youth and others who seek a society that values economic and social justice.

That is the meaning behind the opposition to President Barack Obama's contraception mandate, the decision by state legislatures across the country to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood health centers and Republican House members' refusal to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

That is why GOP majority legislatures last year launched a slash-and-burn assault against teachers and other public workers, the majority of whom are women. The assault on women is an attack on the family structure by those who profess their concern for family values.

On Mother's Day, May 13 this year, we traditionally take time to express our love and appreciation to the mothers in our lives. While doing so, we also should take a look back at the holiday's origin.

Julia Ward Howe, suffragist, abolitionist and author of the lyrics to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," is credited as the woman behind Mother's Day. Howe was deeply troubled by the deaths of the U.S. Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War. In 1872, she wrote, "Why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters to prevent the waste of that human life of which they alone bear and know the cost?"

Howe proposed an international conference of mothers to put an end to war as a solution to conflicts. The conference never took place, but her call for an annual anti-war Mother's Day was taken up by peace activist Anna Jarvis and later her daughter, also named Anna. Their work led to President Woodrow Wilson's signing of a congressional resolution in 1914 naming the second Sunday in May "Mother's Day."

In the spirit of Howe, 1199SEIU member Constance Malcolm, the mother of slain Bronx youth Ramarley Graham, will devote her first Mother's Day without her son to holding a vigil for mothers who have lost their sons to police violence.

"There is nothing I can say to take this pain away," Malcolm said of her ordeal. "The first thing I do every day is go to the window and look for him coming down the street, singing with his headphones on. I would not wish this on anyone, not even the shooter."

We cannot bring Ramarley back, but we must do our part to prevent future Ramarleys and Trayvons. That means taking up the fight against extra-legal violence by police, racial profiling and stop-and-frisk laws that put a bull's-eye on our children and young men

In that regard, I'm proud to say that my union has joined NAACP President Ben Jealous, National Action Network President the Rev. Al Sharpton and a host of labor, progressive and civil rights organizations for a Father's Day march in Manhattan. The march will demand that Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly put an end to the NYPD's use of stop-and-frisk and racial profiling. It will be a march to save our children.

What better gift to share with New York's mothers and fathers?