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Put anger to work for the common good

Gregory Floyd | 4/12/2011, 5:28 p.m.

The struggles for workers' rights and civil rights are, by nature, inseparable. The Teamsters Union is proud of its long tradition of fighting for, protecting and affirming the civil rights and liberties of workers and the fundamental rights of all people.

But the historic advances we have made in the area of human rights are under greater threat today than at any other time in recent history. We must unify once again or risk losing all the gains made during the courageous struggles of the 20th century.

Our common good is precisely what we, as a nation, will be voting for on November 2.

I am the president of Teamsters Local 237. We represent more than 25,000 members who deliver important services across New York City and Long Island and another 8,000 retirees throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico. We serve the public in dozens of city and municipal agencies, including public schools and hospitals. We manage and maintain NYC's public housing system. We treat people with drug and alcohol problems, counsel troubled teenagers and assist the disabled. Our city attorneys also help navigate the court system for the vulnerable and disadvantaged.

But our jobs and benefits, as well as the communities we serve, are under attack.

Public workers and the people we serve share common goals and face common enemies. The radical right wing and the business interests they represent seek to return to a time when discrimination was an acceptable practice and when workers earned near-poverty wages and had few rights, if any. They want to go back to a system that was stacked against all but those born into wealthy families.

Hard-working Americans are understandably angry, but much of this anger is misdirected. We need to fight against hopelessness and confusion with facts.

After the financial crisis hit, blame was placed squarely where it belonged: on Wall Street and the greedy bankers who drove the country into a deep recession, resulting in rising poverty and declining incomes for most families.

Mayor Bloomberg just announced that city agencies must cut another 2 to 4 percent from their bottom lines. We can't forget that Wall Street's self-serving actions put government budgets and pensions in the dangerous position from which they are now fighting to recover.

Local 237 and other unions have been able to stave off harsh cutbacks through vigilance and activism. But we can't win this fight alone. That is why Local 237 joined hundreds of labor unions and civil rights groups in the One Nation Working Together rally on October 2 in Washington, D.C.

We demanded that politicians, the public and the press stop putting the burden of this recession on the shoulders of innocent workers and communities who can least afford further losses. What we need now are good jobs, a strong public education system and equality for all.

We cannot allow misguided voters to change the course of history this November. Every voter who supports public policies that promote broad-based prosperity and equality must understand that not voting is the same as voting for the other side.

We must take our own anger--our passion--to the polls and make sure we protect people with the interests of our community at heart. We are also angry, but we must show that emotion by storming the polls and demonstrating that we are truly one nation working together.