We in 1199SEIU have been in high gear since September, pulling out the vote for Hillary Clinton and labor-friendly candidates for Congress and state houses.
Happily, Election Day will mark the end of an ugly, contentious and dangerous presidential election campaign. But it also will be the start of the related struggle to steer our nation in a more humane, equal and democratic direction.
Our election journey began with the choice of the candidate who would do the most to help us advance our agenda for working people. Between the two major party candidates, the choice was obvious. Secretary Clinton hears us and understands our concerns. That understanding is reflected in the most advanced Democratic Party platform in our nation’s history.
The realization of that platform requires a Clinton victory, which also would build on the accomplishments of President Barack Obama’s administration and those that we in labor and the progressive communities have fought long and hard to achieve. A victory by Clinton and like-minded candidates would loosen the grip of the obstructionists who have defeated or derailed progressive initiatives.
Those obstacles would increase dramatically under a Donald Trump administration. His faults and falsehoods are far too many to enumerate in this limited space. A Trump presidency would turn back the clock on what people of conscience hold dear. But even more dangerous are the forces of hate and evil that his presidency would unleash.
Our first task is to expose and defeat Trump as well as Trumpism. Our second during the final days of this campaign is to prepare the ground for future struggles. That includes combating the hate, bigotry and division that can give rise to other extremist demagogues.
These struggles include the fight to advance the Democratic Party platform by holding all our elected officials accountable, from the Congressional district to the White House. This goal will not be accomplished without our persistent expansion of our progressive coalition. Our elected officials will go as far as we’re able to push them.
As trade unionists we don’t write off or ignore co-workers and working people in general, including those who may have gravitated to the Trump candidacy as a response to the rightful anger and pain of lost jobs and the upward transfer of wealth. Our task is to convince these workers that the answer to corporate excesses and anti-worker policies is not to turn on each other, but to forge greater unity and organization.
We know that change comes from the bottom up. What we do at our workplace and in our communities can have national and international implications. Each victory helps to alter the landscape and influence and inspire other struggles.
We in 1199SEIU are attempting to do just that. During this election campaign our New York region has been locked in a battle with Rite Aid Pharmacies, the largest drugstore chain on the East Coast. After some 20 months of negotiations, it’s clear that the company intends to sacrifice the livelihoods of its already low-paid employees on the altar of ever-greater profits.
Although the company increased its revenue from $26.5 billion in 2014 to $30.7 billion in 2016, more than four out of five Rite Aid workers earn less than $15 an hour. And although an arbitrator has ruled that the company has engaged in unfair labor practices, the company still refuses to bargain with our union in good faith. From Rite Aide’s actions, we must conclude that its goal is to make Rite Aid a non-union enterprise.
That leaves us with no recourse but to take our fight to the streets. We will do so Nov. 22 in Manhattan. We invite you to join us on this march for justice as we use the election campaign momentum to ease the plight of all low-paid workers.
We’ll be guided by words from Dr. Martin Luther’s King’s sermon in support of striking and ill-treated sanitation workers the evening before his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee.
Our leader said, “We should take heed: Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.”
George Gresham is president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the largest union in New York and the largest health care union in the nation.