by Angel Picón
Labor unions in California must play an active role more than ever in the 2016 Presidential elections. It wasn’t long ago that unions were created because of local disputes with their employers. This year as each presidential candidate is sharing their political ideologies they shape their presidential campaigns as they travel the all over the country and their support, or lack of support of progressive issues are being highlighted at the union halls all over the country. Many of their inconsistencies are gravely evident to the union members that are now trained “BS” spotters.
According to political reports, the delegate-rich state of California may hold the key in deciding who will be the nominee of the Democratic Party. This year California has a distinct opportunity to confidently elect someone that has had the privilege of working for progressive issues; unions issues he has fought for for years. The two front Democratic candidates have participated and supported many union issues in the past. Why are California unions important this year as opposed to other presidential races? In part because the Financial Crisis in 2008 hit the state very hard with a shortfall of almost $40 billion dollars.
The Financial Crisis gave birth to the Occupy Movement thereby giving labor unions and their members an opportunity to participate in grassroots movements across the country. This movement also gives union members a place to vent their frustrations and in turn they got educated. They were involved in direct actions, they challenged the financial institutions to be accountable. They are informed union members now and they know how to connect the dots. They now have questions; they now know how we got into this mess in the first place. In short, it was greed where only the corporate financial institutions (i.e. Wall Street) won and our local economies lost -again. Union members became educated on the issues that mattered to them by directly involving themselves on the issues that affected them.
We, the taxpayer got stuck with the bill
The major financial institutions got a break because they were “too big to fail” and we, the taxpayer, ended up bailing them out with a $700 Billion dollar bailout- somehow it didn’t seemed fair to union members. Many labor unions in California participated in campaigns to expose these banks that tore down many of our communities (many in California’s central valley). In fact, many union members are still struggling to recover. Some unions were asked to make some very tough concessions in contract negotiations,
If anything we should remember that politics is, and will always be, local. This remains to be one of the biggest problems with some of our congressional legislators; they forget to take care of their local constituency. When politicians forget local issues, people begin to notice whom do they really represent the community, or Corporate America?
Unions all over the United States have a fundamental and profound choice to make. Much of the membership at the local levels across the country have expressed discontent as various international unions endorsed one candidate over the other. Members begin to question how a decision is made in order to decide on whom and how the international would endorsed.
Both of the Democratic Presidential candidates; former Secretary Hillary Clinton, and Senator Bernie Sanders, have fought and supported progressive union issues, issues unions fight each and every year. However, if we take a closer look over the last 8 years, unions have collaborated with many community-based organizations that raised the issues on how we got into the financial mess that affected our own union members and how financial institutions were bailed out by our very own government. Some unions took a little longer to participate in these grassroots movements than others. Union members brought the issues up to their elected leadership because it affected them personally this time.
One major distinction between the Democratic candidates is that while one may appear in complete support of our unions issues, she is being financed by the same people who created this financial mess in the first place. The other candidate has shown solidarity over the last 50 years a consistency of fighting for most if not all matters unions have and continue to fight; wages, job security, equality, Healthcare For All, No to Wars, “Fair” Trade (i.e. NAFTA, WTO) civil rights, and LGBT rights and so on. Senator Sanders has been consistent in all of these issues. But yet, major internationals choose to support and endorse someone that flips flops on political issues only to suit her political expediency to win support. Secretary Clinton has been consistent in being inconsistent. If we know our labor movement history, we come to the conclusion that unions were, and continue to be, grassroots movements. It is time to re-analyze, re-evaluate, how we can recreate and increase participation among our union members. Unions can no longer afford to be reactionary for the political expediency of a inconsistent candidates. Union leadership should be a proactive and supportive of candidates that have proven their consistency in supporting progressive issues. Imagine Senator Sanders winning the presidency- then unions all over the country would have their own revolution.
Angel Picón worked as a SEIU representative for 15 years in California.
He was on the NPC of DSA in 2002 and served with the DSA Latino Commission. He served as a district representative for a Congressperson and later organized for a community organization.