A steelworker makes the case: Election is about revitalizing unions, protecting retirement
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden listens to steelworkers discuss their priorities in the backyard of a home in Detroit, Sept. 9, 2020. | Patrick Semansky / AP

Here is why I am very enthusiastically supporting—along with my union, United Steelworkers, our retiree organization SOAR, ARA, our entire labor movement, and wide sections of our people—Joe Biden and Kamala Harris for president and vice president of our nation and urge all to do likewise.

Trump is attacking Social Security and retirement security. He favors a national anti-union “right-to-work” law. Most dangerously, he has made common cause with outright fascists, Nazis, and extreme racists and is destroying the democratic gains working people have fought so hard to win.

For anyone confused on these points, we need only to look to labor’s history for lessons. Racist elements like the KKK, Proud Boys, and other white supremacists have always attacked and suppressed the rights of African-American working people; they’ve always committed inhuman violence; and they’ve always been the thugs used against union drives and picket lines. They and their ideology have long been used to divide us, always in the interests of our worst enemies. Working people have to stand against racism and division in all its forms and must defeat Trump to send those thugs back under the rocks they came out from.

In a Labor Day address in Harrisburg, Penn., back in September, Biden made it clear that he stands with us, working people, and plans to fight for our families and communities. He expanded on that position at the big UAW-organized plant in Warren, Mich., just days later, and has stayed on message going forward.

Declaring that he and Harris intend to be “the most pro-union administration in our nation’s history,” he went on to outline what he meant by that.

He stated that the “first step of the new administration will be to put in place a major federal jobs bill to rebuild our nation,” to “rebuild our nation’s crumbling infrastructure,” using “the latest, state of the art, renewable energy” to do so.

Central to their program, he said, was passing a new labor law that will again make it possible for mass organizing campaigns by unions to organize unorganized workers into unions.

“In the ’30s, when they passed the Wagner Act,” Biden stated, “They didn’t just ‘allow’ workers to organize, they encouraged them!” He and Harris will do this again, he insisted.

“We’ll go after employers that regularly break labor law, and do it personally. We need to increase penalties and make sure they pay personally or are personally prosecuted!”

He stated that loss of retirement security was a huge problem his administration would work to correct. “We need to change corporate bankruptcy law in order to stop companies from stealing workers’ pensions!” He spoke of the need to protect Social Security, pass the ProAct, and enact the Butch-Lewis Retirement Bill, which would limit the abuse of bankruptcy to steal workers’ pensions.

When asked about companies moving work to low-wage, non-union areas globally, Biden pointed out that while Trump had promised to bring work back home, the practice of exporting jobs had actually increased dramatically during his administration.

Biden-Harris would fight this, he said, by putting in place “Buy American” requirements on federal work, as well as by putting a 10% tax on company profits from any work sent offshore.

Biden also called for a “national mask mandate” and putting medical professionals in charge of a national task force to combat COVID-19.

These positions outlined by Biden Harris are all ones that the AFL-CIO and the rest of organized labor have made priorities necessary to shift the balance of power away from big money at the top and back toward America’s working families and communities.

We need real solutions to problems, not just band-aids to cover the cancers of inequality, closed shops, union busting, and racism. In other periods of great crisis, it wasn’t electing a “great man” that solved problems. It was an active, fighting people’s movement that combined with and pushed a good administration in the right direction.

It is possible to not just get rid of Trump (which is absolutely necessary), but the wide, active, and deep people’s movement that is promising to fight for the issues Biden outlined makes big victories possible after Trump and the GOP are defeated. Things like a real national health care system, taxing the rich, real measures against institutional racism, policing reform, and other steps to meet people’s needs can all be put on the agenda once the terrain of struggle shifts.

The Great Depression required a new Roosevelt administration, but also a massive unemployed movement and the new Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) to push the New Deal administration and make things like Unemployment Insurance and Social Security a reality.

The 1960s saw the passing of historic civil rights legislation, the advance of women’s rights, and more. All these were pushed by huge movements but also required the LBJ administration to sign them into law.

Vice President Joe Biden puts on a United Steelworkers hat at Pittsburgh’s annual Labor Day parade in Sept. 2015. | Keith Srakocic / AP

Today, our nation faces a crisis with multiple layers: economic depression, a global health pandemic, dangerous threats to democracy, and a system of institutionalized racism exposed for all to see.

We need to elect Biden-Harris and fight for the program outlined above. But we must also be ready to work like hell to fight and push the Biden-Harris government to pass it!  Then we will really have something to pass on to the next generations. A movement armed with a strong labor program, with Biden and Harris publicly standing for it, is what it’s going to take.

There are some who have said that Biden “isn’t radical enough,” that they’d have to “hold their noses” to vote for Biden-Harris. Well, whatever rings their bells, but for us union folks, working people, and retirees who’ve worked hard our entire lives only to have what we earned stolen from us, the decision is not a hard one to make.

Finally having people at the national level acknowledge and pledge to fight for what we have fought so long for is enough to have us standing up with our friends, neighbors, and co-workers in favor of Biden-Harris (with no disclaimers).

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

ELECTION 2020: Everything you need to know to vote in your state


Bruce Bostick
Bruce Bostick

Bruce Bostick is a retired steelworker and leader in Ohio Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees.