A Light at the End of the Tunnel? Maybe, But We Cannot Give up the Fight

May 2011 - Our terrible national recession, born from the George W. Bush era policies of coddling Wall Street billionaires, and made worse in California by the anti-worker fervor of Arnold Schwarzenegger, is now approaching five years old.

As horrible as things have been, and still are, for California Building Trades workers who have seen hundreds of thousands of their jobs disappear, there are now some hopeful signs that perhaps there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

According to data from the state Employment Development Department, during this recession, from October 2006, all the way to January 2011 – for 52 consecutive months -- there were year-to-year drops in construction employment in California. Fifty-two straight months!

But in February and March of this year, according to the EDD, that miserable streak finally ended, and year-to-year construction employment in California increased, for two straight months. Yes, for the first time in five years, jobs are coming back. Both nationally and in California, the unemployment rate is actually dropping.

So far, it’s not much compared to what was lost. But if you are one of those 10,000 men and women in construction in California, who finally went back to work this year, then it’s a pretty big deal.

President Obama’s leadership on restoring America’s prosperity through rebuilding our infrastructure, such as high speed rail and other transportation projects, is starting to get good results.

Governor Brown has been in office just a few months, but he has steered away from the disastrous Schwarzenegger course in ways that will reward Californians in the months and years ahead.

For example, two years ago Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill strongly supported by the Building Trades to increase California’s use of renewable energy. Had he signed that bill then, tens of thousands of Californians would be at work today building those new renewable energy facilities. This year, Gov. Brown signed that legislation. And now, those jobs are coming.

So there is reason to be hopeful. But make no mistake about it: the richest one percent are benefiting far too much from the war on workers to give up their fight against us.

They have already hoarded a greater share of America’s wealth than at any time since the Great Depression, and had their taxes cut to boot. But they still want more. Now, the Republicans in Congress and the Legislature want to cut Medicare and Medi-Cal and Social Security, to finance more tax cuts for the rich.

They also want a new a corporate tax cut. Consider that last year Hewlett Packard made $11 billion, paid its CEO $24 million, and three other execs more than $9 million each. But they still ask for another new windfall on the backs of workers, and Republicans are determined to give it to them!

Yes, coddling the rich and attacking workers are part of the same strategy. The Wall Street Journal reports that in at least 21 states, Republican governors are trying to weaken prevailing wages for construction workers, so they can pay for more tax cuts for the rich. Even here in California, the ABC has found Republicans to introduce five bills to weaken prevailing wage. We have fought ABC to a standstill, but they are not going away.

President Obama recently described the Republican vision as one that says, “If our roads crumble and our bridges collapse, we can’t afford to fix them.” He refuses to accept that vision, and he’s right.

Finally, we have a president who believes that rebuilding our country, and putting our people to work is a higher priority than more tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires. But regardless of what he does, Republicans and their wealthy corporate backers continually obstruct at every turn.

Brothers and sisters, we have won some important battles and are just beginning to see some beneficial results. But as a result, our enemies are attacking workers and unions as furiously as ever. You’d better believe that we can’t afford to ease up in this fight one bit.

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