If we can come together, we can fight together

Secretary-Treasurer Peter Finn speaks at the Instituto Laboral De La Raza National Community Awards on April 6, 2019 in San Francisco, where he was honored with the California Labor Leadership Award.

When you are on the right side of the fight, conflict can be a means to bring positive change — to change the status quo when the status quo is not good enough. Whether it’s growing inequality or politicians using race to turn workers against each other, we are certainly living through some challenging times.

More than ever, in these challenging times, we need to find common ground — to stand together — to fight together to change the status quo. As you know, the political dialogue in this country is increasingly disconnected from the needs of working people, with both sides of the aisle taking money and siding with corporations over working people.

Whether it’s gig economy companies misclassifying workers as independent contractors to skirt basic worker protections or big corporations using robots to eliminate jobs, we live in a world where just because the tech guys say it’s cool, it must be, and it’s assumed we can’t question that. But ask working people: you’re not going to find any fans of self-driving delivery trucks or robots that deliver food to hotel rooms, or kiosks at the airport. Are these things making working people’s lives better, or for that matter, the customer experience better? No, they are simply making more money for the corporations that are looking to maximize profit. How about being for technology that enhances work, but willing to fight with full force against robots that eliminate jobs?

Then there is outsourcing. You have supposedly pro-worker politicians respond to outsourcing with empty offers of job retraining. Come spend a day with some union members who take tremendous pride in their work and say you are going to offer retraining. You will be shown the door very quickly. Companies don’t outsource to make things better for working people, or the customer. They outsource to save money and maximize profit. How about we just keep it simple and fight outsourcing.

It’s frustrating when it feels like so many people say they are concerned about growing inequality, but then have a hard time taking a strong stand against misclassification, or robots that eliminate jobs, or outsourcing. But these things are all making inequality worse and stripping away good middle-class jobs.

It is even more frustrating that we seem to be turning over how we are shaping the future of work to corporations, whose interest is to maximize profit, versus figuring out how to come together to shape it in the interest of everyone.

The problem is, to come together, we need to figure out what we agree on. If there is one thing I have learned over the last 20 years working in the labor movement, people don’t agree on much. But regardless of age, political party, gender, race, or sexual orientation, people all want a raise. They want quality affordable healthcare for their family. They want security in retirement. And they don’t want their job outsourced or to be replaced by a robot.

I know this is an oversimplification, and plead guilty to being a little idealistic, but instead of being divided by party labels, social issues, and race, wouldn’t it be great if we could come together around these things that we agree on, these very important economic issues that are the foundation of good middle-class jobs? If we can come together around these issues that we agree upon, we can fight together, fight for something better. I, for one, think we need to fight and that we can do better.