Opinion: The AFL-CIO Should Throw Steve Sweeney Out

Brian Powers- Senior Organizer, New Jersey Revolution Radio.

We knew it was coming for weeks. The big reveal that was no surprise to anyone who pays attention to Trenton Statehouse politics. Steve Sweeney is coming after public workers, again.

Senator Sweeney held a press conference on Thursday August 9 to tell us the same thing he tells us all the time. After his “Commission “ gave him suggestions, he is coming after union-represented public sector workers. Again. Cuts to their healthcare, increased contributions, freeze the pension and convert retirement plans to 401k style accounts again. More money for wall street out of working class pockets, again.

Do Workers Matter to Senator Sweeney?

Of course this sham of a commission is loaded with Republicans or centrist Democrats (State Senators Steven Oroho, Troy Singleton), Capitalists (Kurt Stroemel- President, HR&S Financial Services, Ralph Thomas – CEO/Executive Director, New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants), and experts from state funded schools that can be leveraged politically. Do you know who is not part of this commission?  Workers.

Mr. “I am an Ironworker Union Man” himself did not see it fit when talking about the pay and benefits of state workers to include 1 union leader or worker on this board. Just like having a women’s panel with no women, or a social justice panel with no African Americans, Sweeney assembled himself a couple dozen sycophants to agree with his political line. Attack public workers, and play up a South Jersey Rivalry against the North (Sound historical?)

The reaction from the political establishment is a very ho-hum one, because they have all seen this before. To the Trenton political class, these proletariat are not people. Our elected officials pay no attention to the state workers as human beings, even as they are surrounded by them in Trenton when they visit our state capitol. State workers are just a political pawn, a talking point, again.

Steve Sweeney has lead the charge against our neighbors for years. His attacks on our comrades in public service have only taken a break when he was lying to them. Do you remember how he swore he would put pension funding on the ballot? Or the $15 an hour minimum wage? After getting away with so many lies, good old Sweeney is going to do the same thing over and over until this state rejects his pandering and finds some real working class leadership.

Why?

George Norcross, of course. Nothing happens without Boss Norcross anywhere anymore. When Daddy Warbucks of the south decided to back away from supporting Steve for Governor, they went to a plan B. Strengthen the grip on legislators, fund a coup against Prieto for the speakership, strengthen their partnership in the north with fellow neo liberal/ prison rich oligarch Joe DiVincenzo, expand into power into Atlantic City. The unions backed Murphy, and NJEA backed his Republican opponent, because, very simply, Steve keeps lying to them.

Now he is mad. He has a problem with them. Like a support group for manipulative narcissists, Democrats have chosen to close ranks around Sweeney. They were with him against the millionaire’s tax during the budget battle and are with him once again  in threatening every state workers’ pension and healthcare. They are bad-mouthing the NJEA after they saw Steve Sweeney turn his back on them over and over. Democrats think they are owed loyalty no matter what actions they take. Lying over and over is just another day for them, and Steve is a Democrat.

Now then. Let’s see if we can do these mental gymnastics together.

Steve Sweeney is a Union “Leader”. You read that right. It is well known that he is a Vice President of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers and an AFL-CIO backed candidate. So, when does our federation take action against this union-busting Democrat? Why in the hell is someone so blatantly disrespectful of workers allowed to wear those titles?

The Constitution of The AFL-CIO says many things under “Objects and Principles.” One of them is  “To secure legislation that will safeguard and promote the principle of free collective bargaining, the rights of workers, farmers and consumers, and the security and welfare of all the people and to oppose legislation inimical to these objectives.”

That one is my favorite. I could probably quote the entire section and provide examples of how Steve Sweeney has violated just about every one of them. The intention of this document is clear, we are to foster solidarity among federation members. And Steve Sweeney has repeatedly done the opposite. At the behest of his boss George Norcross, Senator Sweeney takes every opportunity to divide labor between public and private sector unions

Here is another quote from that same section, “To aid and assist affiliated unions in extending the benefits of mutual assistance and collective bargaining to workers and to promote the organization of the unorganized into unions of their own choosing for their mutual aid, protection and advancement, giving recognition to the principle that both craft and industrial unions are appropriate, equal and necessary as methods of union organization.” How, exactly does taking a pension benefit away “aid and assist” the affiliated unions of CWA and IFPTE?

Time to Right a Wrong

So, AFL-CIO, do those words in your Constitution mean something or not? Do we build solidarity among the working class or allow the will of oligarchs to run our unions? Who is more important, tens of thousands of workers, or one fraud Democrat on the attack for the establishment? Our AFL-CIO Constitution also sets in place a process for internal disputes to be settled, and we all know this kind of action will not happen unless union members speak out.

Years ago the union movement suffered a great defeat we are still recovering from. We succumbed to McCarthyism and expelled anti-capitalist leaders, we became a part of the capitalist system and bourgeois democracy. The effects have been disastrous for the working class. Can we learn from history? I hope so. As an union member for almost 20 years I urge the AFL-CIO to expel the class collaborators this time, find the old CIO in us, and take the system head on. Expel Steve Sweeney.

Which side are we on?

Brian Powers is a Senior Organizer at New Jersey Revolution Radio. He is a graduate of the Rutgers Union Leadership Academy and Public Sector Representation Classes.  He has been a member, shop steward, organizer, and staff member of IBEW, CWA, and Teamsters for the past 18 years. Brian helped found 15 Now NJ in 2014, and is a member of the Green Party of New Jersey Executive Council.

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