Letters to the Movement by John T. O’Malley

by John T. O’Malley, Legislative Coordinator, CWA Local 1180

Letters to the Movement is a segment where we publish a message from one of your fellow CWA activists. It’s an open forum, and we encourage you all to write in and contribute a piece.

John T. O’Malley has been a longtime workplace and political activist at Verizon. He played a key role in building up the Local 1120 Legislative and Political Action Team in Poughkeepsie, New York, and helped to build strong movement relationships between the local and allies like Citizen Action of New York, the Working Families Party, the Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation and other groups in the community. He recently took a job as the Legislative Coordinator for CWA Local 1180 in New York City.

In my 25 years of involvement in the Labor movement, it has become obvious to me that our fight for fairness, just compensation, and a voice on the job can no longer be won by exclusively confronting my own employer. The leverage that my employer is able to wield comes not from their own power against us, but from their effective use of the environment in which we all reside; and in their ability to control that environment for their own benefit.

As time goes on, the public perception of labor groups is that we are a special interest group that are out for our own benefit — sometimes at the expense of the rest of the public. But make no mistake about it; that perception is controlled by corporate interests, and is believed even by some of our own members. When corporations lay the foundation to create this environment, it provides an enormous amount of pressure to succumb to more givebacks, less compensation, and more apathy. Yet this is not new, past labor leaders such as, Walter Reuther heeded these warnings saying, “…what the union fights for and wins at the bargaining table can be taken away in the legislative halls.”

In the 1960’s, my father was a recent high school graduate. He was able to work for 27 years, buy a house, raise a family, put kids through college and retire with dignity before he became disabled and passed away. The benefits my Father afforded are under threat today from corporate forces through manipulation of public perception. When I started work in 1990, my ability to provide for those same things began to diminish. I have adjusted my spending over time, and I actively try to fight for economic justice. But the reality is that jobs like those are no longer available. I work for the same employer, and more costs continue to be shifted onto my family — add that to flat wages, and we’re actually losing each year.

Every year, we pay more for health care — and the insurance company makes more profits. Every year, we pay more for heating fuel, and the fuel company makes more profits. Every year, we pay more for gadgets and the gadget companies make more in profits. So — in an ever-expanding economy, the corporations are making increasing profits, while the costs are left for the workers or the taxpayers. As the pressure mounts on all of us, someone else is benefiting. And those who are benefiting are making the rules.

However, the sky is not falling. We can fix this. There are many people, in many circumstances, from many levels of compensation with similar limits, hopes and dreams that can be joined in the same fight. Recognizing who is on our side and who is on the other side is essential. It is not between those born in this country and those born in another country; it is not between those of us who were “fortunate enough” to fall into this job, and those “only fortunate enough” to get a job without benefits; it is not between those who benefit from the mortgage tax, and those who benefit from rent subsidies; and it is not between those who make less than $15/hour at fast food employers and those who make less than $15/hour at world-class institutions. It is between those who control and benefit from public policy and those who do not.

Please read, listen and think. But do not just follow willingly because I ask. Join because you believe. Join with others and bring others with you. Eugene Debs, one of the founding members of the Industrial Workers of the World, once said, “ If you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of the capitalist wilderness you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into this promised land if I could, because if I could lead you in, someone else could lead you out.

Think of what life would be like if we could get our fair share; we’re not looking for more than we deserve, just our fair share. Join with those who are looking for the same thing. ORGANIZE! ORGANIZE! ORGANIZE! Look at your kids and others in the next generation. Think about what life will be like 20 years if we don’t do anything now. Will future generations be able to find work? Will they be able to go on vacation, send their kids to college, buy a new house, get a loan for a car, and pay for healthcare? Will they be able to retire and live in dignity? And how will the corporate executives be doing? Will they be sailing in the Caribbean while their workers are struggling to pay for chemotherapy? This will happen if we do nothing. So join the fight — for you and yours.