The Teamsters and its union brethren have been standing up for American workers for more than 100 years. Those efforts, however, can sometimes feel like screaming into the wind.
Increasingly, corporations and their billionaire allies like the Koch Brothers are tilting the playing field by doling out buckets of cash to lawmakers in an effort to push through a big business agenda that favors tax breaks for rich companies over increased wages for hardworking taxpayers. Fat donor checkbooks seem to take a priority over good public policy.
But there are still good people serving in or seeking elective office who aren’t ignoring U.S. workers. They see the nation hurting from a decrease in middle-class paying jobs. They know change is needed to spur the government to invest in infrastructure and American manufacturing to create better jobs and a better nation.
Some of those people came to Detroit last week for the annual Netroots Nation progressive activists’ conference to let attendees know they want to alter the course of the nation to better serve workers. And their words were warmly received.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., chided corporations and their cronies for trying to rig the system to further pad their bottom lines while workers are told to kick rocks. She called them out for pushing bad trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, where negotiations are held in private and passage will lead to more jobs getting shipped overseas.
“For big corporations, trade negotiations are like Christmas morning,” she said. “They can get special gifts through trade negotiations that they could never get through Congress. How does that happen? Because trade negotiations are held in secret, so that big corporations can do their work behind closed doors. Giant corporations get insider access to promote their interests while worker rights and environmental regulations get gutted.”
Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., who is running for U.S. Senate this year, also turned his ire on a corporate world that has decimated his home state. He said moneyed interests must be dealt with.
“That is what this election is about,” he said. “We can’t basically let these billionaires swoop in and put up misleading ads – and every ad they have put up against me has been debunked by every fact checker there is. So on Election Day, it is incumbent on everyone in this room, on everyone to get out and say in loud and in no uncertain terms that elections in this country will not be bought, we will not tolerate it, this is still a country of, by and for the people. And we will make a difference.”
Creating middle-class jobs will mean returning that great engine of prosperity – unions. Mark Schauer, the Democratic nominee for Michigan governor, pledged to stick up for workers.
“When I’m governor, I’ll value the labor movement and all it has done to build a middle class in this country,” he said. “And when I’m governor, I will repeal right-to-work for less. Michigan, the arsenal of democracy, the state that brought you the 40-hour work week and created the middle class, is now a right-to-work for less state. That’s shameful and wrong. That’s not my Michigan and that’s not our America.”
Teamsters liked what they heard. Jim Nichols, a UPS shop steward with Local 728 in Atlanta, said he was glad to hear elected officials and attendees raising questions about issues members care about. “As a progressive and as someone who is active in the labor movement, the focus on protecting and empowering workers and addressing wage issues … is something I really support,” he said. “I’m proud to see Netroots Nation making it a priority.”
While words are nice, however, they are not going to deliver change on their own. The Teamsters have been busy registering members to vote and are ready to put boots on the ground in advance of the November elections. Warren, who’s not up for election, said she’s all in as well.
“So the way I see it, we can whine about it, we can whimper about it, or we can fight back,” she said. “I’m fighting back.”
All workers need to join in.