Madison, Wisconsin. Columbus, Ohio. Indianapolis, Indiana. These cities are the front lines of the current assault against the rights of working people and the middle class. With state and local government deficits ballooning around the country, however, the fight is expanding every day.
Make no mistake. This push against unions is not simply about getting fair wage and benefit concessions during tough economic times. It is about the rich and powerful breaking the backs of labor — especially public sector unions — once and for all.
But can it happen in New York City?
If they succeed in breaking unions in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere, you can count on them trying it here in New York, the most unionized state in the nation.
We cannot let that happen. To stop it, we need strong leadership at the highest levels of government as well as troops on the ground. While there are many distinguished and committed elected officials dedicated to protecting public sector workers, I believe we need someone from within our ranks to defend our interests. If all union members stood behind one of our own, imagine the message it would send.
That is why I am considering a run for mayor of New York City in 2013. It is still very early, and nothing is set in stone, but I have started talking to other unions and business leaders about the possibility of a labor candidate.
The attacks on unions in Wisconsin and elsewhere have hurt unions in many ways, but they have also created a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The corporate big shots — and the anti-worker politicians they fund — believe they can use this chance to deliver a decisive blow against labor. In fact, they have kicked us and awoken a sleeping giant. It has energized and unified us against a common enemy, much as we had been in our history. Now, all unions are coming together to wage a larger battle to defend our rights and the livelihoods of our members. We may not see such passionate unity again for another generation, and we must take advantage of it now.
Unions counteract the power of Wall Street. We are the ones that remind New Yorkers it was bankers who destroyed our pensions, private savings and government budgets. Someone needs to make sure that, when the government belt gets tightened, the pain is spread across all classes. It is time for that someone to be a true workers’ candidate.
Although mayors have been supportive of the Teamsters and labor at times, we see it does not take them long to blame labor when things start going poorly. A mayor from labor would not throw unions under the bus. Instead, they would come up with balanced and fair solutions that do not hurt any one group too much. We simply need someone we know we can trust.
In all this debate, we must not let it be forgotten that unions are good for this city and this country. Without them, there would be no middle class today to protect. Our country is founded on the principle that its citizens have the right to prosperity and happiness. Unions give average working people the ability to live that dream. More than that, the middle class is the group that creates economic growth through their purchasing power: products, homes, cars, etc. Taking away money and security from union members would hurt not only their families, but all Americans.
In the words of the great Martin Luther King Jr., who was a revered civil rights leader and active labor organizer, “History is a great teacher. Now everyone knows that the labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them.”
We are at a turning point when labor is the last remaining hope to lead 21st Century workers in the fight of their lives for justice in the workplace. It will take strong leaders and legions of dedicated supporters. Here in New York City, you can count on Local 237 to continue its leadership role as a mobilizing force and a voice of reason confronting every challenge before us.