Broke-Ass City: The best way to beat the devil is to support a union

I was walking through SoMa on Tuesday when I heard what sounded like vuvuzelas droning down the street. As I was pretty sure there were no World Cup games being played at 12th and Harrison, I went to find out what all the noise was about.

There are two new residential projects going up near that corner, separated comically by a small house, like in the movie “Up.”

Outside the building projects were about a dozen members of the Sheet Metal Workers Union Local 104. Apparently the developers weren’t paying the workers fairly and the Union planned on making noise until they did.

The Bay Area has been always a big labor region. The 1934 West Coast Waterfront Strike shut down all the ports on the West Coast for 83 days. During the strike police shot two men to death, an incident which triggered the San Francisco General Strike where 150,000 workers essentially halted all work in The City for four days. Combined with similar strikes in Toledo and Minneapolis, this led to the rise of organized labor in the United States, which in turn helped create the American middle class.

There’s a bitterly disgusting irony in the fact that the Right peddles the idea that we need to return to the heyday of a strong middle class, when they’re the ones who destroyed it.

As the bosses and the industry owners have always been conservatives, and as we’ve seen for the last 40 plus years, they’ve invested their wealth into funding legislators who create laws that support them. While wages have stagnated since the Right started picking apart Unions, CEOs and shareholders have never been richer.

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing working people to vote for politicians who help companies like Amazon and Netflix pay zero in taxes (which is what these companies and many like them are paying this year). Yes, if the devil had a political party it would most certainly be the GOP.

Not since the 1930s have American workers needed organized labor so badly. Major American cities like San Francisco, New York, and Seattle are becoming Dickensian dystopias where the utterly poor sleep at the doorsteps of the ultra wealthy. And a single big medical bill can send an average person into crippling bankruptcy. But there are little glimmers of hope – exciting things are happening.

At the end of 2018 more than 7,700 workers at 23 hotels operated by Marriott, went on strike. After nearly two months of striking the housekeepers in San Francisco got a $4 raise and stronger protections against sexual harassment.

Last month the United Teachers Los Angeles went on strike and after six days got a six percent pay raise as well as more nurses, counselors, and librarians district wide. Other school districts around the country are preparing for teacher strikes while right here at home Oakland teachers gear up to strike for higher pay and smaller classes.

And there are more Unions forming as we speak. In December, the veterinarian specialists at VCA, one of the Bay Area’s largest and most expensive veterinarian hospitals, Unionized with the help of the International Longshoremen Warehouse Union (ILWU) – the same Union who shut down the West Coast ports back in 1934.

And just last week workers at Anchor Steam announced plans to form a union to help increase pay and improve working conditions. They too did this with the help of the ILWU as well as the Democratic Socialists of America.

It’s imperative that all of us do everything we can to support these unions. Not only is it important to be in solidarity with other working people struggling to better their conditions, it also helps you as well. Organized labor is a vital part of a Democratic system even if you’re not a union member yourself. That’s because strong unions create strong labor laws and they set the standard of what a fair wage is. If we could build organized labor to the point it was before the 1980s, all of us would have better healthcare, better wages, and better protections.

To find out how you can get involved, reach out to your local Democratic Socialists of America, as well as the unions which are doing the organizing like ILWU and SEIU. Let’s build a society where everyone is taken care of and treated fairly, not just the millionaires and billionaires.

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him and join his mailing list to stay up on the work he’s doing: His guest column, Broke-Ass City, runs Thursdays in the Examiner.

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