It’s been a little over a year since the events of January 6, 2021. That day, the U.S. Capitol was attacked by a violent mob of Donald Trump supporters ginned up with rage after having been systematically fed the lie that their preferred candidate was cheated out of a second presidential term.
The truth, of course, is that Trump lost the 2020 election fair and square. His handlers knew it. His right-wing media enablers knew it. Trump knew it. Still, he and other powerful figures whipped supporters into a frenzy using a fabricated, fantastical conspiracy — the Big Lie that “Biden stole the election!” — and repeatedly trumpeted it with increasing intensity as the election’s certification day drew near.
By January 6, the most hardcore Trumpists were ready for all-out war, and they got it. It took the form of a mass temper-tantrum-turned-full-blown-insurrection as indignant rioters stormed the gates of the Capitol building, broke down its doors, and tore through its halls unchecked. They left behind them a trail of death and disorder, and a deep distrust of our democracy that festers like an open sore and now threatens to tear our social contract apart.
For 125 years and counting, this council has stood strong as a beacon of opportunity and camaraderie for our city’s working people.
Our institutions failed the American people that day, and it failed them on an epic scale.
I linger on these distressing matters because I feel that they can serve as a reminder of why organizations like our council are so important to civic life and democracy in the United States. As unionists, we stand up for the interests of working people because we respect them enough to speak the truth to them, to listen to their concerns, and to help them.
Who will look out for working people when government fails? When our trusted elected leaders lie with glee to the working class and send them careening toward demise? Who will stand up for workers when city hall fails? When bureaucrats and executives alike enrich themselves before the people they’re supposed to serve?
When bad ideology and corruption stand in the way of progress for working families, American democracy suffers. But for 125 years and counting, this council has stood strong as a beacon of opportunity and camaraderie for our city’s working people. The SF Building Trades is a unified body of building and construction trades unions that provide skills and training for an industry that is the heartbeat of the City’s economy, and we always seek to stand in solidarity with unions outside of our industry.
When school officials spend more time on social media than on the job, we demand safe conditions and pay. When city departments would rather feed the nonprofit industrial complex than invest in accountable public services, we are there to demand public jobs that are accountable to the citizens. When the non-union businesses cheat and exploit immigrant wage-earners and threaten the safety of their crews, we are there to demand good, union-level working standards on all jobs. When developers seek to divide the working class on craft lines or cut our voices out of the debate, we stand up, organize and make sure workers are at the table.
This council has stood watch, and not without our share of flaws and even outright failures. But still today, 125 years since its inception, this body is the best fighting chance a construction worker — dare I say every worker — has at coming home alive and with enough money in their pocket to pay for their daily bread, provide for their family, and invest a portion in the future. Maybe they even have a bit left over to spend a few bucks around town after some hard-earned rest.
Today, as we fight for democracy in this country, we would do well to keep in mind that strong unions only strengthen our democracy. We must remember that voting rights are central to the way we operate as unions, and we must seek to ensure that such rights are treated as sacrosanct for all people in all elections throughout our political sphere.
And we must remember, perhaps most importantly, that every member is an organizer. Every one of us can and should see it as our duty to bring in good hands to our crafts, to encourage our fellow workers to vote, and, ultimately, to think of ourselves as defenders — part of a 125-year-long legacy of keepers of this fortress that is San Francisco.
Because if we don’t stay vigilant, our fortress could be the next to fall to the mob.