Don't Give Up On Political Action

Charles W. Jones
International President Emeritus

We must participate in the process if we want to see our government work for us, not against us

Events in Washington over the past six months have discouraged many Americans. Voters sent a clear message to Washington in November, but it was ignored. The Republican majority in the House chose to spend months belaboring their case for the president's removal, despite clear signals that the Senate would not convict. Their colleagues in the Senate could have ended the matter quickly, but they chose instead to drag it out for weeks, only to end up where they began.

Meanwhile, the business of running our country was ignored. For most of a year now, no one in Washington said much about the issues that affect workers and our families every day of our lives - issues like Social Security and Medicare, trade policies, workplace safety, and health care.

It has seemed like no one in Washington cares what the average working American wants or needs. In times like these, it is easy to become so disgusted with Congress that we write them off and stop paying attention to what they are doing.

That would be the worst thing we could do.

Our old nemesis Newt Gingrich is gone, along with his buddy Bob Livingston, but the House of Representatives is still being run by a group of anti-labor conservatives, people who would love to do away with all protections for working people and give free reign to corporations.

The new Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, has never been a friend of labor. He consistently votes against our objectives. His record on Boilermaker issues is only five percent; the AFL-CIO rates him at zero. If we stop paying attention to him and his colleagues, we may be in for a sad surprise.

It's time for Congress to get back to the business we elected them to do — governing our country.

We can expect to see an effort to federally mandate the deregulation of the electric power industry nationwide. Not only would that threaten Boilermaker jobs, but it would threaten the availability of electric power. In a totally free market, the big consumers - factories owned by large corporations - would get lower rates and more reliable service, but the average consumer would be left out in the cold.

We can expect another attempt to make it easier for businesses to classify workers as independent contractors, stripping them of protection under the National Labor Relations Act and other federal laws protecting workers.

We can expect to see attempts to privatize Social Security, a ploy that enriches stockbrokers, but does not guarantee Social Security benefits will be waiting for you when you retire. We can expect to see proposals to require sharp cuts in Social Security benefits, to raise the retirement age, and to reduce cost-of-living adjustments.

We can expect to see the usual battles over budget allocations for the Department of Labor, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and other agencies that protect workers and their families. We can also expect more attempts to limit workers' participation in the political process.

These are issues we must be prepared to oppose vocally, vehemently, and with solidarity. Even more important, though, are the issues we'd like to see Congress take action on.

If this Congress ever puts the Clinton scandal aside and gets back to governing the nation, we have a lot of work we'd like to get done. We'd like to see Neil Abercrombie's (D-1st HI) Charter and Build program get underway. This program provides a way for American shipbuilders to build supply and special mission ships for use in the U.S. Navy's auxiliary fleet. It would create thousands of jobs for American shipyard workers while strengthening our defense system.

We must also address Article 415 of the U.S. Tax Code, which limits the amount of pension benefits some workers can make in retirement, regardless of how much money is in their pension fund. This unfair regulation singles out workers in multiple-employer pension plans such as the Boilermaker-Blacksmith National Pension Trust. This unfair limit must be eliminated.

We must change the way we are attacking the problems of air pollution and global warming. Current policies ask Americans who work in coal-fired power plants to sacrifice their jobs in an effort to solve a problem that is international in scope. We must demand that Congress find a better way to reduce greenhouse emissions, one that spreads the burden of providing cleaner air across our entire economy, instead of forcing one sector to make all the sacrifices.

And we must provide a means to secure the future of Social Security and Medicare without weakening or compromising the social benefit our country gains from these programs. There is no doubt that they must be adjusted to account for our country's changing demographics. Our challenge is to make sure that Congress enacts modifications that secure the future of these programs without sharp reductions in benefits or the wholesale privatization of the trust funds.

It's time to remind Congress of what we elected them to do. We must contact our senators and representatives and talk to them about these issues. Get them moving. Get them working.

We cannot give up the fight simply because last year they decided to drag us through the mud.