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We Didn’t Start This Class Warfare, but We Will Finish It

Speech to the Rally for “Jobs, Not Cuts!”
November 17, 2011, Trenton, NJ

by Thomas Bias

Thomas Bias Good afternoon and greetings from Sussex County! And greetings from the big old black bear who was on my back porch on Monday night. He ate up a whole winter’s supply of seed for our bird feeders. I looked out my back door and right into his eyes! We’re expecting him to come back and visit us next spring, and we’ve named him “Mortimer.”

I’ll tell you what, though: when I first moved out there, I had a good union job. I had gotten my card in Local 103 of the Typographical Union. We had a good scale, which enabled me to support a family and buy my little house in Sparta. But in 1992, the union shop where I had worked so hard closed. I kept up with new technologies and kept working, but things were uglier. Pay wasn’t as good, and benefits were even worse. I began to fall behind on bills, so in order to get on top of debts I refinanced my home mortgage.

In 1998 I got a job that I really liked. The commute was not bad; the pay wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible. I not only made the company run better, I saved the company from going under. I thought that I had job security for as long as I chose to keep working. Then the 2008 crash happened, a year after I had refinanced the house.

I really believed that my boss would keep me on out of loyalty after the work I had done for his company. I was mistaken. On the Friday before Thanksgiving in 2010, my boss called me into his office and terminated me, effective immediately.

Well, today there are no jobs for people like me. I have been out of work for nearly a year. I have had to file bankruptcy. I can’t possibly pay that refinanced mortgage, and now I have found that my mortgage is over $30,000 under water. I have received a notice of intent to foreclose. If you ask me, this is not acceptable in the United States of America.

Look, what kind of democracy is it if we have no control over the decisions that have the greatest impact on our lives, decisions about our jobs, our housing, our health care? If democracy means anything at all, it means that we the people have the right and indeed the responsibility to decide that what happened to me and millions of other working people cannot be allowed to happen in our country.

I’ll tell you something else: we call upon young men, and now young women, to lay their lives on the line overseas, young Americans like Marine Sergeant Scott Olsen, but the billionaires can’t be asked to pay another one half of one percent in taxes? They can’t be asked to put some of their fat profits at risk to hire more people on? Hey, billionaires: ask not what your country can do for you! And then when young people like Scott Olsen stand up and say, “This isn’t right,” they’re met with violence? Scott Olsen came back from Iraq and then was nearly killed by an Oakland policeman.

Do you know what you call this? It’s class warfare. We didn’t want it. We didn’t ask for it. We didn’t start it, but—and this is my message to Governor Christie and other politicians—we will sure as hell finish it.