Workers' Combined Pennies Fight Billionaires' Efforts to Silence Workers

Robbie Column

October 2013 - Through all my years as an Ironworker, I made regular contributions to our political action committee. My contribution was at first three, and then five cents per hour.

I contributed those pennies every hour of every day that I worked to support our cause. So did my brothers and sisters in our trade, and all the workers in all the Building Trades affiliates. Working in unity, all of us combined our pennies together for a common purpose, into enough dollars to fight effectively for a decent quality of life for workers.

That is who we are. That is how we do things.

That is how we have been able to win important political battles recently, such as protecting the freedom of local governments to choose to negotiate project labor agreements, protecting and expanding the prevailing wage, and establishing better and stronger workplace health and safety laws.

All us workers combining our pennies is the only method available to us to effectively fight the billionaires who think we should work for minimum wage or less, and who are always spending their massive resources to cut our wages and degrade our families’ quality of life.

The average California worker earning prevailing wage makes the modest middle-class salary of $54,000 a year.  But billionaires such as Charles Munger think that’s too much for construction workers to earn, so he spends his fortune trying to destroy us. According to records at the Secretary of State’s office, he’s already spent $1.5 million of his personal fortune to influence public policy in California in 2013, and this isn’t even an election year. That money has gone to Republican Party organizations, and to some Republican politicians.

In 2012, which was an election year, he spent more than $40 million in cash, non-monetary contributions, and loans for political campaigns. Most of that money was spent trying to trick voters into passing Proposition 32, which would have silenced workers’ voices in the political arena by making it illegal for us to combine our pennies from our paychecks to support political efforts. But fittingly, because of our tenacious unity, our combined pennies prevailed over his millions.

The financial support for Proposition 32 was a virtual who’s who of California’s corporate bigwigs, hoping to score a one-two punch: first, silencing our voices; and then coming after our jobs, wages and retirement.

We’ve seen it repeatedly in other states in the past few years when anti-worker politicians are able to win power; places like Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia and elsewhere. PLAs are prohibited, prevailing wage is abolished, job-creating public works projects are scrapped, and anti-union “right to work” laws are enacted. Those states have entered a “race to the bottom” by encouraging employers to seek an edge in contracting by cutting corners at workers’ expense.

We have been able to stop that so far in California by combining our pennies to help elect worker-friendly leaders, like our legislative supermajorities and Governor Jerry Brown; and to beat back sinister efforts to silence us, such as Proposition 32.

The anti-worker billionaires will never tire of spending their millions on efforts to enrich themselves by driving working families into poverty.  So we must never forget that it is the combined pennies from all of us working people that will keep empowering us to effectively fight back.  Those pennies have made, and continue to make, a huge difference for working people in California.

Together we will make it. Unfunded, divided and separated, we are at their mercy. In the history of the industrial world , business has never shown mercy to workers. We have only succeeded when we have obtained a position of strength, gained through unity. 







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