Amid Electoral Setbacks, Unions Represent Strength

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Business interests continue to blame financial shortfalls on the influence of unions on the government. Unions like Local 237 fought long and hard for the basic rights given to them under the state constitution, and the loss of tax revenue has led to proposals to reduce public workers' pay and benefits.

[State Of The Unions]

Call it a tidal wave, call it a revolution, but there's no doubt the Republicans stormed back into power in Congress and the national stage on Nov. 2. U.S. Voters, upset about the economy and the bickering in Washington, took their anxiety and frustration out on incumbents by handing the House to Republicans, as well as several seats in the Senate.

Some believe that the election was a referendum on the President. No doubt, many of the nation's problems were beyond President Obama's control - especially two wars and a trillion dollar deficit, courtesy of the Bush administration. Add to this the conservatives' blockade of everything put forth by Obama and the Congress - even legislation that they themselves had earlier advocated.

Their aim was, and is, to bring Obama down, regardless of the cost to the American people. Some voters felt that the President had lost touch with the people, especially working- class people anxious about their jobs and mortgages.

Congress was unable to unify and make their case to the public. We must not forget that while Obama may not have succeeded in solving all our problems, he is not the cause of them. The current economic crisis was caused by uncontrolled Wall Street speculation, resulting in the collapse of the banks and the housing market.

President Obama actually followed through on his campaign promises to fix health care, reform the banking industry and provide federal assistance to kick-start the economy. Sometimes there is a political price to pay for doing the right thing, and Obama and Congress paid dearly.

The surge of corporate-backed candidates was a major blow to Obama and the labor movement. The Teamsters were the first of many unions that campaigned strongly both for Obama's agenda and pro-worker candidates.

Unions all over the country spent heavily. Unfortunately, the national climate this year was too strong for us to stop the political tide. The new Republican leadership in the House has already vowed to take every opportunity to damage the labor movement in order to protect their own political interests in the next election cycle. We must be prepared to stand up and defend the rights of workers to unionize, to fight for policies that favor working families, and to have access to good health care and education.

Union workers should not shoulder the blame for the situation that America finds itself in today. Hardworking Americans are the backbone that keeps this country strong, and we deserve to be treated fairly by our employers and our government officials. We are the ones that this economic collapse affects most, not the people responsible for it.

Business interests continue to blame financial shortfalls on the influence of unions on the government. Unions like Local 237 fought long and hard for the basic rights given to them under the state constitution, and the loss of tax revenue has led to proposals to reduce public workers' pay and benefits. But that does not mean the unions should take sole responsibility for the sacrifices needed to fix our state.

We are willing to participate in discussions with city and state officials and the public to find a solution that will work for all New
Yorkers, but we will fight against any proposals that single out public employees. Here in New York, the election news was somewhat better. Many pro-worker candidates endorsed by our union were elected. Workers had major victories in two key statewide elections: attorney general and comptroller, proving that in New York, at least, organized labor has significant power.

On a more troubling note, Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo has used combative language when talking about dramatic changes he plans to bring to labor relations in the state. He says he wants to bring back government to the people, but he must realize that union workers are mostly the very people he is talking about. I hope our new leaders can pursue their reform plans while maintaining a sense of balance and fairness. We are reasonable people, but we are not afraid to fight for what is right.

The voters spoke this month. In the coming months, it will be the unions' time to have our voices heard. Together, we can bring New York and all of America to a better and brighter future.


Gregory Floyd is President, Teamsters Local 237

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