In his keynote to the Metal Trades 69th Convention, Building Trades President Mark Ayers hailed the resolve of those who“are starting to wake up” and push back “against a system that is stacked against them at every turn.”  They have chosen to “occupy” cities as a way to bring attention to the fact that “over the course of the last 30 or 40 years the rules have been re-written to benefit the rich and well-connected, while middle class working Americans have seen their small slice of the American Dream slip through their fingers.”

Repeating the call to “stand up and make it right, Ayers pointed out that wages have dipped in the past two decades from 63% of all business income in 1990 to 58 percent today, “which amounts to roughly 5 percentage points or so of private-sector income… more than $500 billion a year!”

“The gap between the incomes of the rich and poor…in what can only be described as America’s new “Gilded Age”…is truly alarming.  According to an October report from the Congressional Budget Office, the income gains among the top 1 percent over the last three decades was nothing short of breathtaking.  The top 1% of Americans have seen their incomes spike by 275 percent over the last 30 years.”

Ayers said the “worst part of this equation is the troubling fact that there is no credible set of ideas…from either political party…that would rectify this troubling situation.  The rich are getting richer while the Middle Class falls further and further behind.  And nobody seems to want to do anything about it!”

Party labels aside, Ayers said politicians need to “declare just whose side they are on.  Do they support the collective bargaining rights of teachers and first responders?  Will they stand up and defend Project Labor Agreements and prevailing wage laws?  And are they willing to stand up and defend America’s shipbuilding industry and protect the livelihoods of skilled craft workers, like those at the Avondale shipyard?”

The anger of working class Americans will continue to simmer as long as politicians ignore their needs, he said. Citing the Obama jobs bill as an example, Ayers noted that the Republican congressional leadership is determined to deny the President any legislative progress.

“Each of the proposals in the Obama jobs bill is supported by overwhelming segments of the American public.  Significant and sustained infrastructure investments enjoy the consistent support of vast majorities of Americans.  And these proposals have also enjoyed Republican support in the past. But today, the Republican attitude to the American people is this:  ‘Your opinion doesn’t mean a thing to us.  We don’t care.  And if you decide to keep that man in the White House in 2012, we will block anything that you and he want to do.’”

Ayers was equally critical of “a whole swath of weak-kneed Democrats that had better start caring about us, too!” This the “Line in the Sand” moment “for our generation of American labor leaders!  We need to remind our friends on both sides of the aisle that this isn’t a family dispute at the dinner table.  It’s a damn class war that supersedes ‘Democrat vs. Republican.’”

Conservatives and their Wall Street partners “have quietly rigged the economic game so that the vast majority of economic growth goes into the hands of the richest one percent among us; while they cut our pay and benefits, destroy our unions, and do their level best to cut Social Security and Medicare. As a nation, we can, and we should, pursue an era of shared opportunities and prosperity…not conflict and self-interest.  But it requires us to think differently as a nation. It requires us to view labor and management not as mortal enemies, but as natural allies and partners who can each contribute mightily to finding solutions that are equal to the scale of our challenges.”