On February 24th, 2018 Chair Morris Pearl spoke at the Working People’s Day of Action rally in New York City. Below are his thoughts.
I’m standing on the podium at the Working People’s Day of Action. It’s twenty minutes before call time and there are already at least a thousand people here. Hospital workers from local 1199. Teachers from the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). Workers from the Communications Workers of America (CWA local 3) and District Council 37 and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Young women proudly holding their children, and people a little too old to have babies with fear in the eyes. They have that same look as soldiers who know the attack is coming, and don’t know if they are going to come back with a big hug from their family, or being carried by six to their final resting place.
And… sadly… they might be right.
They know that with an employer of thousands of people, even with the best of intentions, which not all of them have, they can’t each negotiate for wages and benefits. They need to negotiate collectively, through their elected representatives. That was what has been making America great for the last century.
But their way of life is under attack. Under the banner reading Make America Great Again, their right to organize is under attack. Our government is deregulating the big businesses, but trying to impose new regulations to, in their words, defang the unions. The latest attack is before the US Supreme Court, in the form of Janus v. AFSCME Council 31: a case scrutinizing whether or not the 40-year-old precedent allowing public sector unions to charge non-members who benefit from collective bargaining should be upheld.
The thing is, we all know that there are a lot of people falling out of the middle class, and even more afraid that they will be next. That is true in Wisconsin, in New York, in California and in Michigan.
And our nation is at a fork in the road. Some places – like New York – are trying to make lives better for those who need help. We are providing daycare for all of the three and four year old people (which make a huge difference for the career opportunities for their parents). We are boosting wages – and seeing a resurgence of commerce, of businesses catering to those people.
Other states (like Wisconsin or Kansas) are taking a different approach. Those states are destroying the ability of teachers and hospital workers to negotiate, and telling the struggling people that they won’t feel so bad, because those who have been doing okay are being brought down to join them at the bottom of the economic ladder.
Human nature being what it is, that argument will work for a lot of people. Their problem (in some cases) is not that they lack for material goods, but that they resent that other people are doing better than they are. In many cases, they have totally lost any confidence that government will ever do any good for them, and schadenfreude is all they can hope for.
They’ve given up any hope that the government or politicians will help lift them up, and yet they see the union workers getting ahead – or even “cheating by skipping the line.” So the answer becomes to keep those union workers back. They look to states like Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin, where they think the field was leveled (or at least a first step was taken) by taking away the unions right to charge non-members dues.
And I gave my speech for about three minutes or so, in a slot between the head of the nurses union and the Manhattan Borough President, telling them that growing inequality is not really good for anyone: rich or poor, investor or worker. We all have to be in this together.