This whole damned system is rigged!
St. Louis Workers' Education Society

Following is a speech by Tony Pecinovsky, chair of the St. Louis Workers Education Society that he presented Feb. 24 at the St. Louis installment of nationwide labor rights demonstrations that took place all over the country.

This whole damn system is rigged!

It was 125 years ago when the radical labor leader Eugene V. Debs said: “The system is so designed to catch the minnows and let the whales slip on through.” An observation just as relevant today.

This whole damn system is rigged!

My name is Tony Pecinovsky. I’m the president of the St. Louis Workers’ Education Society. Our job, our mission, our very reason for being is to challenge the system – a system stacked against ordinary, working class people. A system that puts profits before people. And I’m proud to be here with you today!

If you will, indulge me in a brief history lesson. It is African American History Month after all.

It was February, 1818 when the legendary abolitionist Frederick Douglas was born. Douglass is probably the most well-known abolitionist in U.S. history. He once said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”

Say it with me, “Power concede nothing without a demand.”

So he demanded!

And like his brothers and sisters who were bought and sold at slave auctions, who were shipped thousands of miles across the Atlantic, he demanded an end to a rigged system. He demanded an end to a system that only benefited a few, the slave masters.

He knew what we know today, that this whole damn system is rigged!

However, what most folks don’t know is that Douglass also supported workers’ rights to form and join a union.

After the end of the Civil War, after slavery had been abolished, after millions had been killed in the slave trade, Douglass don’t retire. He didn’t throw his hands up and say, “my job is done.” No! He railed against the “Slavery of low wages” and “cheap labor” and he urged his newly freed brothers and sisters to fight collectively, to form and union joins.

This whole damn system is rigged!

And it was in February 1936, roughly 40 years after Douglass’s death, that an organization unlike any other organization in U.S. history was founded. The National Negro Congress, a coalition of over 550 organizations representing three million people, was founded to challenge the system, a rigged system.

Like Douglass, they knew the system was rigged. So they organized. They fought. They battled anti-union gun thugs, Pinkertons with baseball bats, black jacks and Billy clubs. They put their bodies on the line – Black and White – and said “Enough is Enough” and they won!

And over the next five years hundreds of thousands of African Americans joined the labor movement through the NNC and the CIO. They fought against a rigged system and helped to usher in one of the most dynamic periods in U.S. history – the New Deal!

It was during this time that unemployment insurance was won. It was during this time that social security was won. It was during this time that ordinary working people like you and I first gained the LEGAL right to form and join a union.

Now remember, brothers and sisters, up until this time – until the passage of the Wagner Act in 1935 – it was illegal to form and join unions.

This whole damn system is rigged!

But like so many others before them, they fought the system and they won! And we’re still reaping the benefits of that victory today!

And it was February 1968 when 1,300 sanitation workers in Memphis went out on strike against a rigged system – a system that kept African Americans relegated to the most menial, dirtiest, lowest paying jobs.

A system that refused to hear their concerns about faulty trash compressors. A system that was complicit in the deaths of Echol Cole and Robert Walker. A system that had denied them the dignity and respect they knew was their God-given right.

And so they went on strike. And their rallying cry became, “I AM A MAN!”

They knew the system was rigged, so they fought and they won!

Like Douglass they knew “power concedes nothing without a demand.” So they demanded a change to the system and they won!

Tony Pecinovsky | St. Louis Workers’ Education Society

Now fast forward to February 2018. This is a historic moment, brothers and sisters!

Yes, the system is rigged! The whole damn system is guilty as hell!

But, like Douglass born in February 1818; like the National Negro Congress founded in February 1936; like the courageous Memphis Sanitation workers who went on strike in February 1968; like so many other examples throughout history – one things becomes abundantly clear…

Yes, the system is rigged. It has been for a long time.

But if history teaches us anything its this: When we fight together, we win! When we fight as a collective, we win!

There is power in the union, brothers and sisters, and we will win! We will unrig this system and we will win!


Tony Pecinovsky
Tony Pecinovsky

Tony Pecinovsky serves as fundraising co-chair for St. Louis Jobs with Justice, is a member of the United Media Guild and delegate to the St. Louis Central Labor Council. He is also the president of the St. Louis Workers' Education Society. His work has been published in the St. Louis Labor Tribune, Alternet, Shelterforce, Political Affairs and Z-Magazine, among other publications.