The Electrical Worker online
November 2013

From the Officers
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Progress Amid Chaos

At this writing, the federal government is shut down and speculation is rampant about how the impasse will affect the U.S. economy and working families.

We all have our opinions about how Washington, D.C., ended up in this sorry situation. But a majority of Americans seem to pin the blame on a minority of extremists, the tea party wing of the Republican Party, exemplified by freshman Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.). Stutzman's the guy who said, "We're not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this [shutdown]. And I don't know what that even is."

How ironic that Stutzman speaks of lacking "respect" even as he, Cruz and their cronies work to undermine the right of workers to organize on the job or have their health and safety and wage standards protected.

Political opportunists like Cruz and Stutzman are best identified when compared to their opposite — true public servants and average people who put the needs of their neighbors, their communities and their country first.

In late September, as Congress wrangled a few blocks away, we were proud to host a few hundred of just these kinds of folks at the 2013 Political/Legislative Conference and the first conference of young IBEW members. They included genuine leaders like Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), one of the nation's leading advocates for wounded warriors, and Rep. John Lewis, (D-Ga.), a celebrated leader of the struggle for civil rights.

In 2004, Duckworth, one of the first Army women to fly combat missions in Iraq, lost her legs and partial use of her right arm when her Blackhawk helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

She talked about her 18-year-old door gunner who, instead of running to safety from the burning wreckage of their helicopter, advanced toward the enemy, weapon in hand. She asked him later why he didn't run. He said, "I was just doing my job, protecting the perimeter."

Duckworth said it's time to elect leaders who understand that their job is guarding the perimeter of our nation's working families from being overrun by the corporate greed that has dangerously widened the gap of income and opportunity between those at the top and the 99 percent. Her call for political courage merged with the theme of the conference, "Stand Up and Speak Out."

Experienced grassroots political organizers from a wide diversity of locals united with newer activists to recommit themselves to engaging in the legislative and political battles, not just to guard our perimeter, but to advance an agenda of progress for working families.

We have had our differences with Democrats and have not shied away from public criticism of President Obama and others. Our loyalty lies not with any political party but with the men and women of the IBEW — and their families — and their communities.

As frustrated as we get with some of our friends at times, we will never be in league with extremists who may wear the disguise of populism, but fight for an agenda that serves wealth and economic power.

Delegates agreed it's time for the IBEW to stand out in the places we live and work. We are not a fringe element in society like the tea party. We speak for the commonsense, mainstream values that built this country and that are our only hope for keeping it strong.

Just as our political conference's delegates and friends painted a stark contrast to the tea party crowd up on Capitol Hill, our young activists in RENEW (Reach Out and Energize Next-Gen Electrical Workers) showed how they stand out among their peers.

At a time when so many young workers have scant knowledge of unions and are facing unprecedented unemployment, IBEW's young activists are part of building a new, more inclusive labor movement. At the RENEW Conference, they led and participated in workshops. They balanced training in the nuts and bolts of local union leadership with brainstorming sessions to discuss how to build solid unity across the IBEW's generational lines.

Our generation made a lot of mistakes, but we're doing what we can to right the situation — which includes helping to build RENEW. The opportunity is ripe.

A recent Gallup Poll found that while 51 percent of all Americans had a favorable view of unions, the percentage goes up to 61 percent for those under age 30. That's more than any other age bracket.

In fact, those under 30 are the only age group that rates unions more highly than big corporations. Young workers want to hear what we have to offer.

So it was rewarding to see, amid the polarization and animosity a few blocks away, a group of young leaders calmly discussing how to help their young friends, neighbors and family members deal with the problems and challenges that face an entire generation.

The road forward for the IBEW and working families is never certain. But our conferences underscore that progress can and will be made when we fully grasp the reality that we advocate for the needs, not of a privileged few, but of America's great majority, the ones without the agenda that corporate millions can buy.

Let our adversaries grandstand and fight one another. We will look for more allies and let our actions speak for themselves.

Edwin D. Hill

Edwin D. Hill
International President

Salvatore J. Chilia

Salvatore J. Chilia
International Secretary-Treasurer