Voice: John Fleck

John Fleck is president of the Denver Area Labor Federation.

“I don’t think we’re in a death spiral in America, but I don’t see things getting better until we start concentrating on the people of our country. … I don’t think we’re investing in our citizens.”

I can believe that the gaps are wider now. I was born in ’58, so obviously I have little or no recollection of the economic struggles of anybody. But over the years, if you look where public education was going, eight-hour work days and child labor laws – all that came from unions. Public education was part of what the unions were fighting for in the early 1900s. If you look at public education now, charter schools and all this other stuff, it appears to me, once again this is my opinion, the rich want to educate their kids, the devil with the rest of us. Our opinion is an educated work force is how America will continue to be strong. If we’re just educating a small percentage of the population, we’re going to have a dumb population. We’re not going to be able to do the great things America has done over the years.

College education is becoming unaffordable to the middle class. The public universities, tuitions are going through the roof, and that’s just the middle class. You get down to people of color who have not maybe had the opportunities and it becomes even more dramatic.

Again, this is my opinion. This is not the official stance of the labor unions as a whole, but my opinion as a union person. Civil rights gave some opportunities and actually part of it helped open up unions to different populations to other than white males.

I come from a construction trade, so I’ll speak to my construction trade itself. The civil rights movement opened up opportunities for Hispanics, for the most part, in Colorado into my union. Today we have people of color, women who have ability to get into an apprenticeship, get into a construction career, into lifelong learning if they want it.

Basically, corporate greed (is at the root of widening gaps). Nobody’s paying any taxes; we’re sending jobs overseas, the tax base is eroding. The middle class is making less. There’s less and less money from smaller and smaller numbers of us that pay taxes to have public education.

White males are in charge of the money and control. People of color have fewer opportunities … when it comes to home ownership and the whole Ponzi scheme that was real estate and getting these people into these sub-prime mortgages and our economy took a tank. They were targeting these people. If you’re talking about home ownership, you need to talk about the foreclosure rate, too. There were people who were getting homes, and I hate to say this, but couldn’t afford them. Here we are. We’ve got a foreclosure crisis that almost put us under. This trickle down that Reagan started in the early 80s hasn’t trickled down. It’s staying with the very wealthy. Productivity in America is at an all-time high and wages have been stagnant for the last 15 years.

When union density has gone down to this level, that means the checks and balances aren’t there like they were. With civil rights, it opened up the unions so there should have been a good time for those folks. I would be surprised if it didn’t, as union membership increased. In the ‘70s and maybe early ‘80s, the union membership rate of people of color increased and was helping out the bottom line a little bit would be my guess. Maybe it didn’t narrow it to the point it needed to be, but I would assume that if people of color were able to get into a union (they would) have a better income career path.

I think when Reagan took away the union rights of the PATCO workers and made open season on us unions back in the ‘80s, there were fewer opportunities for them to join unions because unions were trying to survive.

I think in the short term the gaps will widen. I see capital sitting on the sideline. I don’t see jobs being created in this country. I think corporations are sitting on the sideline right now. I think there’s plenty of money out there to build the infrastructure putting people to work. We’re not quite to the soup lines yet and I think it’s going to take the economy worsening until people start waking up and demanding certain things from their government, from the corporate citizen. I don’t see it changing much. I don’t think we’re in a death spiral in America, but I don’t see things getting better until we start concentrating on the people of our country. I don’t think we’re investing in our citizens. I don’t see that changing. We still have people off-shoring jobs, not paying taxes, the whole thing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *