Unions have been under attack since they were first formed to protect the rights of workers. For 60 years, Local 237 has been on the front lines of the fight to earn better wages and benefits for members — building a middle class along the way.
It is an understatement to say that we are now in a historic battle for workers’ rights. I have often said in this column that this is a critical time for the labor movement. Governments all over the country — and the world, as well — are trying to balance the harm done by Wall Street on the backs of workers, especially public employees. Unions from all over have hit the streets and made their voices heard to stop the assaults on workers.
Despite great effort, we recently lost an important battle in Wisconsin. This state became the center of the fight for unions when the governor, Scott Walker, tried to take away the state’s public sector unions’ right to bargain collectively. Our local and many others sent people to help the fight there, storming the state capitol and protesting the despicable effort to turn back the clock on organized labor.
Labor mounted a political effort not seen in decades. Gathering more than one million signatures, we attempted to recall many state legislators and the governor. It was a historic and important effort. We knocked on every door in the state and rallied the workers. In the end, however, we did not succeed in kicking out these dangerous enemies of labor.
These enemies we fight against are very powerful, and their power is growing. Big business and the ultra-wealthy see this as an opportunity to try to break the back of public sector unions. They are now able to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence the political process. At the end of the day, their wallets were too strong to defeat. We have the power of the people, but they have the power of the dollars. This election sent a message to all greedy interests in this country that our government is for sale.
Corporations and the rich have already nearly decimated private sector unions in this country, but that wasn’t enough. Unwilling to pay their fair share in taxes, they seek to destroy public services. Where else can they find more money? By cutting important public safety, health and social programs laying off workers and cutting wages and benefits that sustain the middle class.
That is what is happening all around the country. Wisconsin was a reliable Democratic, labor state. Now it is being taken over by business interests and Tea Party extremists. In New York, we face an increasingly anti-worker environment. We have already seen the attacks on New York unions, with efforts to reduce pension benefits, cut wages and lay off workers. As one of the last true strongholds of the labor movement, we must continue doing everything we can to protect the rights of working men and women. As we recently learned, once the balance of power shifts, it can be difficult to get it back.
Our power is being tested under the harshest economic conditions since the Great Depression, yet recently we achieved several important victories, through our ability to mobilize and fight. We were able to stop the City of New York from tearing apart the prevailing wage requirements by taking it to court. Even on the fights we have not won outright — such as Tier 6 — we still managed to make it much better than it would have been otherwise.
The Teamsters were one of the first groups to organize and fight against the exploitation of workers. There were strong enemies back then, and we have strong ones now. We carry a proud tradition with us. We have not lost our resolve. We will not be intimidated. Come what may, we will show the strength and power of working people and continue fighting for just wages and benefits. Each generation has its legacy. We want to be remembered as the one that rekindled the flame of labor solidarity in our nation. I guarantee you, as long as I am your president, I will relentlessly pursue that goal.