The Electrical Worker online
August 2023

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No matter where you believe your country is or where it should be going, most people today approach politics as if it were a carton of rotten milk.

Politics can be bitter and nasty, sure, but worse, the fights rarely seem to be about what really matters in our lives. It can make you want to throw up your hands and walk away.

But some types of people never get so disgusted by the ugliness that they give in to apathy or cynicism. They're the born wealthy, the already powerful, the simply corrupt. They embrace the ugliness, even encourage it, and hope working people will be so disgusted and disheartened that we leave the field for them.

But their vision of politics isn't the only one possible.

Every day, from neighborhood councils to city halls to Ottawa and Washington, thousands of members of this union bring the dignity and principles of the IBEW into politics.

People like you. On days like today.

In this issue of The Electrical Worker, we want to speak to you about how power in America and Canada works and how you can get it for your family, for your community, for workers like you and for the nations we call home.

'A Sleeping Giant'

Power is the ability to take your vision for the world and make it real. And for working people, a labor union is the only path to power.

Our power — your power — is rooted in negotiating and enforcing collective bargaining agreements. The IBEW has reshaped millions of lives through the contracts we have fought for over 132 years.

To enforce those agreements, to make them better and to expand their shield to protect more brothers and sisters, IBEW members by the hundreds enter the world of campaigning and politics.

But Election Day is only one day, and running for office is only one way to engage in politics to help working families.

"Working people in the U.S. and Canada are a sleeping giant," said International President Kenneth W. Cooper. "Every member of this union is an expert on their lives and their work, and that is sufficient for any one of us to seek the power to shape our nations' futures."

Everyone has an idea of how the world ought to be. For organized labor, the world ought to be one where every worker gets their fair share of the value of their work, every person has benefits that provide security to them and their families, and all can look forward to the time when work ends — the end of the day, the end of the week and a dignified end to working entirely.

We get that stability through bargaining. "The union's primary tool of power is signing and enforcing collective bargaining agreements," Cooper said. "Every entry we make into the world of politics is to make our CBAs stronger, easier to enforce or to expand the number of people who get access to CBAs."

But unions cannot, and should not, be involved in every political fight. There are important issues the IBEW will never have an opinion about and won't have a word to say to our members about, one way or the other.

"Economic stability and the success of working people in America, that's what we care about in politics," Cooper said. "Our only permanent loyalty is to one another, not a candidate, not a party. Us and our future, end of story."

At the Table or On the Menu

Cooper said there are two sayings favored by previous international presidents that, together, form a kind of political North Star for the IBEW.

From Edwin D. Hill: "If you're not at the table, you're on the menu."

From Lonnie R. Stephenson: "There are no self-made men in a union."

The last two years have been an extraordinary example of what is possible when you fight for and win that seat at the table.

"We didn't just get an invitation to the White House Easter egg roll," said Austin Keyser, assistant to the international president for government affairs. "For the last two years, we have been the most powerful outside legislative force in any democracy anywhere in the world."

Stephenson was a senior member of Biden's transition team. Keyser was co-chair of the campaign's Climate, Energy and Environment Policy Committee.

In his first 21/2 years, President Joe Biden crafted and passed laws that have been promised for decades that will reshape our economy for the clean electric future.

In previous administrations going back decades if not longer, banks, the businesses and bosses had most, if not all, the seats.

But not today. Every step of the way under this administration, Keyser said, we weren't just at the table, we were an indispensable voice.

"Everything went through us. Nothing was signed if we weren't on board," he said.

When the time came to write the Inflation Reduction Act, Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, and CHIPS and Science Act, the IBEW didn't need to worry about the hidden forces pushing the proposals away from working people in rooms where we weren't allowed.

"We were in every room. We were asked about every senior position whose portfolio mattered for our jobs," Keyser said. "The president was clear with the environmentalists, with developers, with congresspeople: If they had language in mind, they needed to work with the IBEW because he was going to ask us before anything moved forward."

Our impact will be felt for decades, and it was the result of a century of effort by members of the IBEW, a culmination of tens of thousands of political campaigns and millions of doors knocked on.

"We always had a vision for a clean economy that worked for working people," Cooper said. "Now everyone will see it because we had the power to make it real."

An Ocean of Opportunity

Throughout this issue of The Electrical Worker are examples of people, no different from any other member, who found access to power through the IBEW.

Some ran for office, but there are many paths to making the world better and fairer, inside and outside the union.

Inside the union, you can be a registrar, help other people run, become a steward on the job or run for your local's officer positions.

Beyond the union, there is an ocean of opportunity. And sure, that ocean may feel like it is filled with sharks, but if you are a member of the IBEW, you have the protection of 820,000 brothers and sisters.

We have members everywhere, from school bond oversight committees to city councils to the House of Representatives to the presidency of the AFL-CIO.

If you have a vision for what our nations should look like, your membership card brings access to foot-soldiers in every county in every state and province, hundreds of thousands of brothers and sisters ready to be inspired by you and back you to the hilt.

"The IBEW will grow in the next decade. Your power to remake the world will grow with it," Cooper said. "This issue is a blueprint for how each of us and all of us can use that power for the good of working people everywhere."