As we begin the new year, there are many reasons for optimism within our Joint Council and local unions. In California, our highly effective political “machine” ensured that good bills were passed by the legislature and signed by the governor and that good candidates were elected in November. This is all a plus. In the last year, many of our Locals have negotiated solid contracts with wage increases and good benefits. As the economy continues to pick up, we look to improve wages and benefits even more. Teamster membership has grown, adding to our strength and ability to get things done for our members and their families.
However, recent news articles abound about the widening disparity in income and wealth in our country. This is not new. What is new is the findings by the international aid agency Oxfam showing that by next year, 80 people will hold the same amount of wealth as the world’s 3.6 billion poorest people.
These staggering numbers are hard to imagine. Thirty-five of the 80 are U.S. citizens; together they possess about $941 billion. Eleven of the 80 inherited their fortunes, having done nothing but be born to the right parents. Another 19 started with inherited money, but invested to grow their fortune.
While the final 50 have taken risks and no doubt worked hard for their wealth, the working people of our country also take risks and work hard. But their real income, compared to the mid-1970s, has actually diminished. The buying power of working people has decreased and the ability of working class people to raise a family, buy a home, go on vacation, and put their children through school has declined.
Numerous factors play into why this has happened and why the middle class or, as I call it, the working class, has fallen behind. The biggest single factor is the decline of unions, in substantial part caused by the Republican Party’s concerted and successful efforts to get workers to vote against their own best interests.
Members tell me that they voted for a Republican candidate or didn’t vote for our recommended candidates because of other issues—not those that impact the working class. I see workers getting taken in by a variety of “social issues” and voting for candidates who are out to destroy the very thing that gives us a decent life—our union. In the past few years, all too many Republican Governors have promoted anti-worker, anti-union, right to work (for less) legislation designed to do nothing less than undermine workers’ strength and power by making their unions less financially able to represent them.
Unions are the only institution that stands up for the working class, fighting for legislation that protects and benefits workers. Unions stand against the right-wing Tea Party Republicans who prefer that 1% of our population controls more wealth than 99% of the rest of us. Watch the new Republican-dominated House and Senate to see how many breaks they give to Wall Street and the banks, enabling them to increase their wealth while undermining workers by refusing to fund pension needs and health care issues. Pay attention to those politicians who are positioning themselves to run for the presidency; their actions will clearly reveal why they are not good for workers.
In closing, I must mention the passing of long time Joint Council 7 Secretary-Treasurer and Principal Officer of Local 350, Bob Morales. Bob was passionate about working people and he understood that involvement in the political process was necessary to better their lives. I worked with Bob for almost 40 years. He never failed to deliver when the members of a Teamster Local or any union, for that matter, needed help in San Francisco. He was my colleague and most importantly my loyal friend. I will miss him and the Teamsters Union will miss him. We won’t see the likes of him again.