“The only way to deal with power is to have power,” Joe Biden said.
The IBEW officially launched its grass roots campaign with International President Lonnie Stephenson calling this fall’s election “the most consequential of our lifetime.”
“People think the power of labor in politics is boots on the ground, knocking on doors and because that isn’t possible this year that we are weak,” Stephenson said. “Our real power is that we are unstoppable organizers and a campaign is a campaign is a campaign. Today’s event was to remind all of us what’s at stake and our power to take power back.”
Over 1,000 IBEW members joined the video call, from senior leadership to local registrars to interested rank-and-file. They heard from Vice President President Joe Biden, Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams as well as from members of the IBEW Political and Legislative Department and experts from the AFL-CIO.
The kickoff began with Stephenson and International Secretary-Treasurer Kenny Cooper laying out the cost of the last three years and their vision of how we avoid repeating the mistakes of the 2016 election.
As international representative and grassroots campaign organizer Rennie Blye said during the call, IBEW households represent nearly 1.9 million votes with significant numbers in the most contested and important swing states in the country: Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania.
“If we win those states, we win back the White House,” Stephenson said.
And then Vice President Biden joined the event to express his deep gratitude for the IBEW’s early endorsement and his vision for an America where working families get what they deserve.
“You know, in the swirl of this crisis, Americans have seen just how vital unions truly are… America has a new name for you: essential worker, as if you haven’t been your whole lives,” he said. “You shouldn’t have to fight for that basic respect. You should have a president who insists on it and fights for it every single day.”
Biden surveyed the disaster of the last three years: 22 million jobs lost this year alone, the worst unemployment since the Great Depression, more than a 130,000 dead from COVID-19 and more than 3.1 million infected. An economy built by and for venture capitalists who strip the economy for parts and leave working people with bills, bankruptcies and broken promises.
“My dad used to say, ‘The only way to deal with power is to have power,’” Biden said. “You think corporate America is going to roll over because all of a sudden they realize what’s going on is not fair? We need power. And the only power capable to deal with the corruption in our country, with how people are being treated, is union power.”
Biden thanked the IBEW for endorsing him five months ago, early in the campaign, when he was trailing his opponents.
“Lonnie, I can’t thank you enough, for you guys all the way back in February endorsing me. I promise you. I promise you. I promise you: I will not let you down,” he said. “You’ve been with me my whole career. You’re the folks I grew up with. You’re the backbone of the country. You’re the people who keep this engine running. Wall Street didn’t build America; you built America.”
Biden’s appearance came a day before he announced his $700 billion economic plan to build an economy that works for the American worker by focusing government resources on American products and research, $150 billion for clean energy, closing the glaring loopholes in “Buy American” clauses and expanding and protecting labor organizing across the country.
“It’s critical that we do the work we can to make it easier for workers to unionize, for unions to organize. That’s a not a one-day priority, that’s a Day One priority,” he said. “If we win, Labor will get the respect and results it has always deserved.”
As he closed, Stephenson said he looked forward to the time soon when he would no longer introduce Biden as Vice President and could call him President.
“And when you do, it’ll be from the White House,” Biden responded. “You will always be welcome there.”
After Biden spoke, Abrams and Cortez-Masto joined Biden in their gratitude for the endorsement and support of the IBEW and the indispensable help of local unions. Abrams reminded the audience that the IBEW was the first union to endorse her.
Abrams’ focus was on state level elections. 2020 isn’t just a presidential election; it’s a census year, and the statehouses elected this fall will redraw the boundaries of election districts across the country.
“When we took our eye off the ball in 2010, the census was used to steal the future from us,” she said. “Labor fell in Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin and Georgia. Now is the time to fight back. We are not just trying to win the White House, we are trying to win America.”
She closed with a call for labor activists to volunteer as poll workers and poll watchers. Abrams lost a closely contested election for governor in 2018 that was marred by some of the worst voter suppression since the darkest days of Jim Crow.
“They are going to work hard to steal this election. They will try hard to do what I saw in Georgia,” she said. “Let’s give them no excuse to close polling stations and make it harder for people to vote.”
Cortez-Masto, chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, then joined to talk about removing of the most dangerous men in American politics: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Republicans have a three-vote majority but are defending 23 seats this election, the Democrats only 12.
“We have got to flip the Senate. If we don’t take back the majority, all the polices, nothing will happen because McConnell will be in charge,” she said. “The good news is there is hope.”
Incumbents are highly vulnerable in Colorado, Iowa, Arizona, Maine and North Carolina and even in bright red Montana. The Cook Political Report has five Republican seats as "toss ups," compared to only one Democratic seat – Sen. Doug Jones in Alabama – that is rated "lean Republican.
The meeting closed with a whirlwind tour of the more than one dozen tools that the IBEW and the AFL-CIO developed to help locals translate their memberships into power – tools to collect good information, tools to reach people when a conversation on a front porch or in the break room isn’t possible.
“You may not need all of them; we hope you use the ones that are useful for you,” said Political and Legislative Department Director Austin Keyser. “Get your registrars on the tools and in the education classes. We have a huge job to do – and a responsibility to the future to do it-- and everything we need to get it done.”
Keyser closed with a reminder that because of the pandemic, the conferences and progress meetings, all of those moments to get people fired up and motivated just aren’t there. And because so many people will vote by mail, if anyone waits to get people excited until Election Day is near, the moment will be lost.
“There is no Election Day. There is an election season and it has started,” he said.