San Diego labor stresses unity

Workers’ Correspondence

On Nov. 8 organized labor and its allies in San Diego will face their first significant political challenge since the landmark AFL-CIO convention last summer. What’s at stake is the future of a labor-community coalition that has navigated one of America’s largest municipalities out of the “conservative” doldrums, and a strategy for defeating the ultra-right in the coming year.

The engine for the upcoming struggle is the California “special” election. Industry groups, ideologues, political partisans, religious fanatics and their financial backers propel most of the propositions on the ballot. The presence of an undemocratic “Conflicting Ballot Measures” section within the proposals makes their overwhelming defeat a must. Meanwhile, affordable housing, livable wages, public employee pensions, health care access and public education are in the mix in the upcoming municipal elections in the city of San Diego. The city will elect its first ever “strong” mayor and one-quarter of its city council.

Lace Watkins, Service Employees International Union Local 2028 member and organizer with the Alliance for a Better California, framed our approach in the last phase of this campaign as “moving with urgency in a unified and determined way to take back San Diego and ... the future of California.” Unity forged in the crucible of conflict as the key to winning was not lost on Mickey Kasparian, president of the San Diego/Imperial Counties Labor Council (AFL-CIO) and president of Local 135 United Food and Commercial Workers. Referring to the grocery workers strike last year he said, “We won’t forget the support of the labor community during our 20- week strike.” UFCW 135’s hall is the center for phone banking, precinct walking and other campaign activities here.

“There is not a union in San Diego that isn’t about helping workers and their families live better lives,” said Donald Cohen, executive director of the Center on Policy Initiatives and political consultant to the labor council. Don has organized successful Community Benefits Agreements and living wage campaigns to help everybody in San Diego live better lives. As a former political director of the labor council, he knows, however, that what’s gained on the picket line can be lost at the ballot box.

“The important thing is that we have a unity in the San Diego labor movement that doesn’t exist in other places,” said Jerry Butkiewicz, secretary-treasurer of the San Diego Labor Council. How we articulate that principle this Nov. 8 will have state and local consequences and a significance on the national level as well.

The author is a shipyard worker.