The Rev. Jesse Jackson urged workers Tuesday in Camden to fight back against benefit cuts in New Jersey - and all over the country.
"Everybody is somebody . . . save the workers," Jackson chanted from the steps of the Walt Whitman Arts Center, trying to pump up the crowd of less than 100, half of them trying to escape the heat by standing several feet back in the shade.
"What's happening in Camden is part of a bigger, broader, national, toxic wind that is blowing," he said, referring to the budget cuts, layoffs, and unemployment.
Camden was the second stop of a "Solidarity Tour." Jackson started his morning in Philadelphia, striking alongside Red Cross workers on the picket line. The tour will continue Wednesday in North Jersey.
Jackson used war anecdotes, from Vietnam to Iraq - saying that if the government can bomb cities and rebuild them overseas, it should rebuild cities like Camden that look as if they are bombed out.
"We spent $3 trillion in Iraq facing and chasing the wrong target," he yelled. "Do you know what $3 trillion could do? Could you not rebuild Camden?"
Speaking under a big red banner that read: "Fighting for bargaining rights & budget fairness," Jackson was joined in Camden by leaders and members of local unions, including Communication Workers of America (CWA) Local 1084, Camden County Council 10, and Camden Education Association. He encouraged the public workers to take a stand and fight back.
He took a couple of swings at Gov. Christie, telling the crowd, "You must not let this governor break your spirit."
The CWA, the largest union representing state workers, has accused the Republican governor of negotiating in bad faith by sidestepping the union and refusing to bargain over health benefits. That led the union to file a labor complaint against Christie that the Public Employee Relations Commission is now reviewing.
Union leaders said the rally turnout in Camden was small because public workers were out doing the jobs that are being cut or aren't protected.
"We haven't had a contract in three years," said Camden Education Association president Laverne Harvey. "We just want to be at the table, not on the table."
Camden was a homecoming of sorts for Jackson, he said, noting that he spent a lot of his childhood visiting his aunt on Walnut Street.
Jackson started his morning with Red Cross blood-collection workers on the picket line in Philadelphia.
They went on strike a week ago in what the union has described as a contract dispute over staffing, scheduling, training, and collective-bargaining rights.
The striking union, Health Professionals and Allied Employees Local 5103, represents about 240 workers who staff blood drives normally held each day by the Red Cross' area collection arm, the Penn Jersey Blood Region.
The Red Cross is collecting blood using other trained professionals.
Jackson's tour is scheduled to visit Jersey City, Newark, and Trenton on Wednesday.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.