Connecticut Workers Fight Back
By Reginald Johnson
May 9, 2011
Everywhere they look, union workers see their middle class lifestyle being threatened.
Quality jobs are lost as manufacturing firms send work overseas. Governors in several states try to cut the pay and pensions of unionized public employees and take their bargaining rights away. Members of Congress set their sights on Medicare and Social Security as a way of reducing federal spending.
Increasingly, at rallies and protests around the nation, union workers are expressing their anger over this turn of events and their determination to do something about it.
On May Day, Connecticut’s unions joined in the fightback. Several hundred union workers and union officials rallied at the state capital, where Gov. Dannel Malloy is trying to force state employee unions to give up $2 billion in concessions to close a budget gap.
Speaker after speaker denounced the greed of corporations and the wealthy, who they said, are not doing their fair share to pay for government operations. They also attacked politicians who are looking to cut social benefit programs --- directing most of their fire at Republicans and not specifically criticizing Malloy or other Democrats.
The theme of the rally, appropriately, was “Enough is Enough.”
“So far all the answers to our problems is we have to give back. Well, why do we have to give back? “ asked State AFL-CIO President John Olsen. “So that corporations don’t have to pay taxes and they can get rebates? So that the rich can take all the wealth and hoard it?”
Olsen went on, “You know we in labor are always accused of waging class war. Well, let me tell you something brothers and sisters. There is a class war going on and it’s against the middle class. They’re trying to exterminate us!”
Ed Reilly, business manager of Local 15 of the Ironworkers said union workers are tired of being pushed around by corporate owners and their right-wing allies and are ready to take a more militant approach.
“Today we say no. We’re going to fight you on every corner. We’ll fight you in the legislatures and we’ll fight you in Congress. If necessary, we’ll fight you in the streets!” Reilly shouted as the crowd cheered.
Reilly also said, referring to those in the state legislature, “We put you in those offices, and we’ll take you out if necessary!”
Many of those at the rally were in the construction trades, including sheet metal workers and ironworkers. Also present in large numbers were members of the Teamsters union, including truck drivers and employees of Sikorsky Aircraft in Stratford, which makes helicopters for the military.
State and municipal workers who are members of AFSCME were also on hand. Municipal workers around the state are under the gun as cities strapped for cash look at possible layoffs as a means of cutting costs.
Many of the protesters wore T-shirts saying “Stop War on Workers.”
Speakers at the event and those in the audience stayed away from criticizing Malloy, even though the concessions being demanded from unions are substantial. News reports indicate there is a possibility of 4,700 layoffs if an agreement is not reached between unions and state officials.
Even Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman got up to say a few words at the rally, assuring the crowd that the administration supports unions. “We’re not like Wisconsin or Massachusetts,” she said, referring to anti-union bills that passed under a Republican governor in Wisconsin and some surprisingly anti-union legislation that is now being considered in heavily-Democratic Massachusetts.
Luke J. Ford, a representative of the Sheet Metal Workers, Local 40, said the recession and bad government policies are really creating tough times for many members.
“There’s too much off-shoring going on. We’re losing jobs,” he said. “We need more manufacturing.”
Ford said companies should only be allowed to move operations overseas if they can only sell their products those countries. He said firms are playing a double game --- running away from the U.S. to benefit from cheap labor in China and other countries, and then turning around and selling their products back here, where consumers have more money.
Ford also called for more government funding to create jobs.
June Pinkin, a retired school teacher from Manchester, who wore a sign saying “Jobs Not War,” said the state needs a more progressive income tax so that wealthier citizens pay a greater amount.
“The U.S.A. and Connecticut cannot afford low taxes on the rich,” she said.