Lessons learned from the storm (36228)

The last few months have been very eventful–much good, much bad. Many of us have experienced huge emotional peaks and valleys, with the hurricane, the super election results and the massacre of innocent children at a Connecticut school. During these hectic times, we must stay focused on the future of New York, our union and the Labor Movement as a whole.

Hurricane Sandy captured most of our attention since it damaged much of the Eastern Seaboard. We certainly need to devote attention to rebuilding and preventing such devastation from happening again. We had a moment of triumph when Barack Obama was re-elected president, which many of us took as a great victory for middle-class Americans and labor in general. But soon after, we were back to fighting against those who have declared war on workers.

It’s easy to forget what the left hand is doing when the right hand seems to be doing more important things, including diligently repairing the unprecedented damages left by the hurricane while applauding a major political victory. However, we cannot forget the about the left hand, our enemies, who are causing serious problems in their relentless pursuit of greater power and profit by trying to defeat organized labor.

We must remember that we are facing many assaults on our way of life, with shrinking government budgets, unfair treatment and elected officials nationwide intent on breaking up local unions.

We recently got a reminder in Michigan, where the Legislature voted to take away the right of unions to grant automatic membership to employees. This step would allow employers to intimidate workers into opting out of the union, hurting union membership. The fight between billionaire-driven American corporate interests and working people has spread from Wisconsin and rages on. We must be prepared in 2013 to continue to fight back vigorously to survive and thrive.

Our struggle to control the political landscape did not end with the defeat of Mitt Romney. Anti-government politicians and their corporate backers still have serious control in Congress. They are using all their power to block any effort by Obama and other Democrats to create jobs, provide affordable health care and support vital government services. Even though the American people sent a message about what they want, they will not give up. Chaos and disagreement still rule the day in Washington.

In January, several tax hikes and spending cuts are all scheduled to take place at the same time. If that happens, our economy would take another hit, and federal funding to local governments would be cut. Fair contracts would become even more difficult to get, and more workers could lose their jobs. That would have a huge impact on New Yorkers, a cornerstone of the nation’s financial stability. Today, virtually every union in the city is working without a contract, and who knows when times will be good enough to discuss serious, fair contracts?

There are some promising signs that our good fight is getting results. There seems to be a willingness in Albany to increase the minimum wage. Advocates are pushing for a paid sick-leave bill in the City Council. Fast-food workers are rallying for better wages and benefits. Labor fights for the rights of all men and women, and we must ensure that unions keep their influence, members and spirit to do so forever.

Let’s keep our eyes on the prize.