Wall Street vs. Workers: Labor Unions lead the fight for justice


On the steps of the State Capitol on April 21, I had the honor of joining thousands of our friends and allies in the Labor Movement in calling for new priorities for California.

Together we called for more investment, not less, in the education of our children. We called for more, not less, support for families.

We called for more, not less, freedom for working people to organize and choose their own destinies.

As I heard the chants of activism and felt the energy of positive change, I reflected on the challenge we face in reforming a system that is stacked against working Americans.

Congress will make a good start when it gets around to enacting new regulations of the financial industry. But this legislation is equivalent to moving around the lawn furniture in the back yard while someone is stealing the grand piano from the house.

I’ve just returned from a series of meetings with managers and trustees of Union pension funds. We are working on solutions to the problems confronting pension funds, both Union and non-Union, across the nation.

These funds took a hit when the financial markets collapsed in 2008 and 2009. While the markets are recovering, it will be years before pension funds regain the strength they enjoyed before the recession.

In the meantime, regulations enacted during the Bush Administration are complicating the recovery process, to supposedly designed to protect.

Your Union has been leading a nationwide effort to modify the rules so that pension funds will have the time and flexibility they need to recover. But the problem goes deeper than that.

In a sane and rational world, the government would underwrite the pension funds of its working citizens. This commitment would guarantee the funds’ security when economic circumstances — circumstances beyond the control of the people who manage those funds — demand it.

If the government can spend a trillion dollars to bail out the banks whose reckless behavior caused the current crisis, certainly it can afford a fraction of that amount to help people who worked hard all their lives to earn an honest living.

Adding insult to the injuries they’ve already caused, the big financial firms are awarding billions of dollars in bonuses to their own executives. These bonuses have added up to $165 billion, which, coincidentally, is equivalent to the current shortfall of multi-employer pension funds.

Injustices like these are common knowledge. Unfortunately, there aren’t many voices standing up to say the wrongs have to be righted.

Many people believe the damage has been done and there’s nothing we can do about it.

I refuse to believe that. America’s workers have been abused and we are totally committed to getting their future back.

Labor leaders have an inherent responsibility to lead the charge. Accordingly, we are assembling Union, corporate and public pension trustees in an alliance to demand change and account ability.

We are developing global investment strategies, policies and guidelines to achieve the best possible investment returns for trust funds. At the same time, we are promoting the goals of social justice, ethical corporate governance and stable financial markets through fiscally sound public policy.

It’s time to change the way business is done on Wall Street and in Washington.

Throughout history, those with money and power have used laws and clever legal tricks to put the wealth of working people in their own pockets. The recent manipulations on Wall Street and in Washington, in which a trillion dollars was taken from the taxpayers to prop up the financial elite, is just the latest example.

The only power in America that will put a stop to this is the Labor Movement. Make no mistake, Labor is the ONLY power in America that has ever put a stop to it. That money needs to be returned to the people, and the best way to do that is to support our pension system.

The answer to our problems isn’t found in misdirected rage and fear. It is found in coordinated action under the leadership of America’s Labor Movement.

Solidarity Works!