by Tim Paulson, Secretary-Treasurer
San Francisco Building & Construction Trades Council
Recently, I have begun to dread waking up and reading a newspaper, flipping on the TV or opening some of my social media applications. The waves of stories about the Democratic nominees for President and the constant childish, leaderless tweets and pronouncements by Donald Trump have become boring and tiresome.
The American press itself is still robust and there are still – especially in the journals and magazines – intelligent and thoughtful writings about foreign policy, California government, sports, etc.
But defining America though the simple scrutiny of the Democratic primary and the rantings of a child is enough to make us mourn the three-martini lunch.
Let’s start with next year’s presidential election.
So much of what is being reported in the mainstream press is whether or not a candidate is a liberal lefty, a “practical moderate” or a right-wing conservative (and all the pieces in between).
But these descriptions don’t explain how to define and analyze the attacks on workers, immigrants, people of color, LGBTx folks, people with disabilities and others coming out of the executive office.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a recent press conference, referenced, as she often does, some of America’s democratic history. She told the story of people waiting outside of Constitution Hall in Philadelphia in 1787 to see and hear what the founding fathers from the thirteen colonies had concluded after months of debate. As the delegates came out of the hall, someone shouted: “Are we to be a Democracy or an Oligarchy?!” Benjamin Franklin answered, “a Democracy, but you are going to need to fight like hell to keep it that way.”
And that’s the distinction that we probably need to use to analyze what’s happening today: Not Right or Left but Democracy vs. Dictatorship. The 1% vs. the 99%. Workers who are one paycheck away from losing their house, apartment or car and those who stress about whether they should buy their fourth home in Hawaii or the Caribbean.
We are also seeing a lot of coverage regarding our labor unions. For the first time in a generation, the general public has a supermajority favorable opinion of unions. And I believe that is because Americans believe that we are the only self sustaining organizations who are fighting for better wages, medical care, pensions, workplace rights and safety.
The red shirted teachers in Carolina, West Virginia, Arizona, Alabama and other states who marched on their state capitols to demand a living wage – and won – were an inspiration to all workers in America.
The brave workers from General Motors who are entering their fifth week of striking for better wages and job protections – who had to endure the unconscionable removal of healthcare by management as retaliation – is seen in the press everywhere.
Sheet Metal Local 104 just won a three-week strike in the Central Valley where workers from all over the Bay Area drove down to walk the picket lines.
Government workers at the local, state and federal levels are fighting and striking for fair wages and winning. The latest major and well-disciplined strike is taking place in Santa Clara, and we watch their campaign on the news every day.
We are winning and fighting, and organized labor has reinvigorated itself.
But there is still a major downside to our campaigns. When non-union workers get inspired and want to join or form their own union(s), corporations and oppressive American labor law prevents those workers from representation. High-priced lawyers, court injunctions, obstructive bargaining and other “right to work” legislation that hasn’t change in 50 years keeps membership growth stagnant by management intent.
Remember the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) that was supposed to be passed in President Obama’s first year in office? This legislation stated that if 50% of workers in a potential bargaining unit at a company signed cards to join a union, then the company would be obligated to bargain a first contract.
Thanks to corporate pressure and big business campaign contributions to moderate U.S. senators it never came up for a vote. (Speaker Pelosi made sure it passed the House…..).
Those long-standing obstructionist tactics we, as trade unionists, have to endure with our current set of laws.
We are pleased to see and hear that some of the rhetoric and policy statements by the Democratic presidential candidates are incorporating our organizing goals in their positions, but we will need a lot more than a labor friendly president to get out of the morass of attacks we have been taking for two generations.
Keep active in your union and please pay attention to what management controlled politicians are trying to do – like take away your Social Security and guaranteed pension benefits, undercutting our health care plans to make us pay even more, and continuing to introduce laws that limit our ability to have a voice at work and give the bosses the only say in what happens with our paycheck and what happens on the jobsite.
Please Vote Tuesday, November 5th!
When workers stick together – WE WIN!