ST. LOUIS - "Organized, mobilized unity in action - that is what will save the ordinary American," Stewart Acuff, of the Utility Workers' Union of America, told a packed Jobs with Justice Workers' Rights Board meeting here June 18.
Acuff referred to the past ten years as the "decade of disaster." He said, this decade has brought "zero job growth." "Currently, 1-in-5 Americans is unemployed, 1-in-8 are on food stamps, and wages have been stagnant since the 1980's. America has officially stopped working for ordinary Americans," he concluded.
Additionally, while productivity has increased 75 percent over the past 30 years, and while CEO pay has increased from 40-times the average workers' pay in 1980 to 422-times the average workers' pay today, most Americans make less today than they did in 1973.
"We have greater wealth and income inequality today than during the Great Depression," Acuff said.
Acuff added this is the result of an "intentional shift of wealth to the filthy rich." "The financial elite understand the relationship between wealth and power. They have changed public policy, gambled recklessly with the world's wealth, and have operated the biggest casino in the history of the world, while average, ordinary Americans no-longer have the money to make our economy work."
"Consumer buying power is gone," he concluded.
"This is a direct result of an assault on unions," he added. "Unions are the largest source of power for workers. They are the back-bone. They make the middle class possible."
However, over 20,000 workers are illegally punished every year for legal union activity. Additionally, 90 percent of employers hire anti-union law firms. "The union busting business is a $4 billion dollar-a-year industry," Acuff said.
In fact, 30 percent of employers fire union leaders to make examples out of them. And 40 percent of union campaigns never see a first contract due to employer intimidation, stalling and illegal activity.
"This assault," Acuff said, "has had a terrible impact on our country, our economy, and on workers' lives."
According to Acuff, "Free market capitalism, unfettered capitalism, always, ultimately destroys."
However, he added, "The answer to this crisis is uncomplicated." "First we have to focus on the common good. Second, we have to re-learn how to work together, collectively. Third, we need to invest in America, we need to rebuild our infrastructure and resurrect our manufacturing base. Forth, we need to create a green-energy economy that puts Americans back to work."
He added, "This is the formula for how we got out of the Great Depression."
Acuff called for a unified labor movement to work together with community organizations, women's rights groups, youth, the LGBT rights movement, clergy and people of color. He said, "We don't have the luxury of division. We share a common challenge, a common destiny."
He added, "We've accomplished the first, hardest step. The election of Barack Obama was a historic first step." Acuff characterized the Tea Party as "fraud" used to manipulate the real frustrations of ordinary Americans.
"The mid-term elections this year," Acuff added, "are very important. We are in a brutal fight over the direction of our country."
PHOTO; Marilyn Bechtel