A New Hope


At the beginning of last year, many pundits and labor advocates were pessimistic about the future of the labor movement.

DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido

First, the U.S. Supreme Court was expected to rule in favor of the plaintiff in the anti-union Janus v. AFSCME case. Many believed an adverse ruling would hurt public employee unions financially and lead to a loss of membership.

Second, we were worried about the country’s political climate. In Washington, D.C., the Trump administration — with its huge tax giveaway to the rich, lifting of regulations, and efforts to dismantle Obamacare — was clearly pursuing an agenda aimed at hurting working families.

Meanwhile, a well-funded, extreme, right-wing net-work continued to carry out a nationwide campaign to kill off unions.

But guess what? The doom-and-gloom scenario never happened. Chicken Little disappeared from the landscape.

At DC 37, our three-year campaign to speak about the value of belonging to our union has resonated with members. By believing in and sticking with the union in this time of crisis, we have blunted the effects of Janus, and in so doing, have strengthened our power.

Significantly, we were part of a nationwide movement that resoundingly voted against the Trump agenda in the November mid-term elections.

I would like to discuss a little more deeply the significance of the elections and why we should have a hopeful outlook. The vote results reinforced my optimistic nature. The elections sent a message to the doomsayers among us to take a deep breath and calm down.

Labor unions are standing strong. Support for unions is at a 15-year high. And we have found friends in the emerging progressive movement.

This inclusive movement embodies the future of our country, which is becoming more diverse. The progressive coalition has united African Americans, unionists, Latinos, whites, community activists, religious, women, immigrants, and young adults. Many of them are finding a home in the Democratic Party as the Republican Party defines itself ever more clearly as the voice of the rich and right-wing political extremists.

As we undergo a dramatic, long-term, demographic change, it’s not yet clear to me that we are beginning a political transformation, a shift away from the relentless attack on the social safety net that protects all Americans, especially working families. Clearly many of us are looking back for inspiration to the Great Society and New Deal when there was widespread public support for expansive government, which the right has focused on dismantling for decades.

So, the change sweeping Washington is very refreshing to me.

As a result of the Democratic takeover of the federal government’s lower chamber, Nancy Pelosi is back as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Pelosi appears genuinely committed to uniting disparate groups ranging from the party’s fiscally and politically risk adverse veterans to the Rainbow Wave of progressive candidates swept into office in November. Her willingness to engage Trump as an equal is encouraging.

More than 100 women — a record — now serve in the House. Voters elected two Native Americans and two Muslim women to Congress. The number of LGBTQ candidates elected to Congress has reached double digits. More than 150 LGBTQ candidates won in races for the U.S. Congress, governors’ mansions, state legislatures, and city councils.

The Rainbow Wave also resulted in significant changes in state houses and governorships, with Democrats replacing Republican governors in seven states. Seven states elected openly gay or transgender legislators for the first time., and Democrats won about 350 state legislative seats and seven state legislative chambers.

And of course, at home, Democrats have taken control of the state Senate in Albany. In national, state, and local elections, most of the DC 37-endorsed candidates won.

One of those candidates is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of the Bronx. She has become the face of change in Washington, D.C., and is almost single-handedly moving the political conversation to the left. This will no doubt help shape the party’s policies.

AOC’s support of a 70 to 80 percent top marginal tax rate on high taxpayers to fund a Green New Deal was met with howls by the right, who — in addition to describing her proposal as politically ignorant — are trying to paint her as a nut.

Yet Paul Krugman, 2008 Nobel Memorial Prize winner of Economic Sciences, distinguished professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center, and New York Times columnist (certainly no intellectual lightweight), points out the United States followed the high tax policy for 35 years after World War II — the most successful period of economic growth in the country.

U.S. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and her fellow newcomers are a breath of fresh air. Let’s hope their voices will be heard.

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