Labor’s agenda is good for America, but the only way to enact it is by electing politicians who’ll support working families, said a longtime SIU ally.
Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie stressed the ongoing need for grassroots political action and also covered other key topics when he kicked off the Maritime Trades Department, AFL-CIO executive board meetings Feb. 21 near Orlando, Fla. Always a favorite speaker at MTD gatherings, the former congressman told board members and guests that next year’s congressional campaigns have already begun – and that organized labor must be active in them.
Abercrombie credited the labor movement for last year’s get-out-the-vote efforts, including a massively successful online voter registration drive in California. He said unions and other labor organizations also did a good job getting younger voters to the polls – their numbers were up significantly compared to the previous election.
As those in the movement well know, however, the struggle never ends, and Abercrombie said it’s not too soon to focus on the 2014 U.S. House of Representatives races. He said that while maritime is a bipartisan issue, it’s important to put a pro-worker majority in power.
“If we do it, then we can begin to put the agenda of the Maritime Trades into action,” he stated. “We’ve got these values that have sustained the labor movement throughout its entire existence. They’re at stake right now. The next campaign is already under way. We’ve got to find those candidates that are going to be representative of the values that your membership expects you to stand up for – expects us to stand up for. It can be done.
“Labor has always been about solidarity: One for all and all for one,” he continued. “An injury to one is an injury to all. Those are the kinds of values – the fundamentals – that make the labor movement what it is. And so I’m asking you to join together and we can win this thing. And when we win this thing, it means America wins.”
Electing pro-worker candidates is just one step, however. The governor said Congress’ workings have become “totally dysfunctional.”
Moreover, the turnover on Capitol Hill just in the last dozen years has left fewer elected representatives and senators who are familiar with the maritime industry. Educating new members of Congress is a vital mission for the MTD and the entire industry, he said.
Turning to the economy, Abercrombie said workers are suffering from incomes that have been stagnant for many years, and from a corresponding lack of savings. He said the all-too-common sight of adults moving back into their parents’ homes reflects the desperate times.
America must address “the greatest income disparity since the Great Depression. That [doesn’t reflect] a prosperous, working middle class,” he said. “Real income is stagnant or declining for millions. This is America! How can that be?”
He reminded everyone that America can overcome these challenges. We had a balanced budget during the Clinton administration and were debating whether to pay off the national debt, he recalled, pointing out those days aren’t ancient history.
Abercrombie also spoke highly of project labor agreements, and cited current construction of housing for military families as an example of how PLAs provide benefits. That housing in part is a result of bipartisan efforts that Abercrombie helped spearhead. Within the program, every single house is union-built, and every one (there are thousands) “has come in under budget and ahead of schedule.”
Using his state as an example, Abercrombie said that many politicians and pundits have erroneously ascribed the nation’s economic woes to too much government spending.
“We need productive domestic investment,” he explained, adding the problem isn’t too much spending, but rather “not investing in ourselves.” He said Hawaii is a good example of how it can and should work: Employment there is up, interest rates are down.
“The prosperity is going up because we’re investing in our own people and our own infrastructure, and that’s what needs to be done. And you have to put people into office that are going to understand that.”
Finally, to those who would say labor’s work is done and unions aren’t needed, he asserted, “We need them now more than ever before.”