We like Joe because he’s younger

A new generation of workers needs new leaders

I HAVE BEEN ASKED why IBEW Local 103 members came out with our endorsement of Joe Kennedy III so early in the race. There are several reasons. Kennedy is committed to making progress on the issues that are important to our membership, such as economic justice, racial equality, and good housing that every family can afford.

Another reason is the urgent need for newer, fresh voices in the US Senate, because the next generation of workers in our nation has been utterly failed by members of the current Congress. The opioid epidemic, climate change, and the wage inequality crisis have all reached disastrous levels because the current political leadership of our country either waited too long to act or didn’t act at all.

It is the next generation of workers, those beyond the baby boomers, who are paying the harshest price because of it. 

This massive wave of dispossessed, younger workers, who mostly own nothing but debt thanks to corporate deregulation and the erosion of workers’ rights in our country, deserve the opportunity to elect political leadership from among their own generation to fix what Congress has broken. 

It is academic at this point to discuss whether these Congressional failures have occurred by intention, neglect, or simply by failing to beat the opposition.

Recently, including during the 2016 presidential election, the national Democratic establishment has failed to connect to a new generation of workers that are displaced, drowning in debt, and too often checking out of the political process. While we hope that the 2020 Democratic candidates for president will bridge this divide by embracing policies to advance the economic interests of young workers, we must take action at the Congressional level, as well. 

A recent study showed that the top 1 percent owns nearly $30 trillion of assets while the bottom half owns less than nothing. While anti-union Republicans in Congress and in the White House certainly have done the most damage on this front, both parties must own a share of the blame. 

The lack of generational diversity in the US House Senate has worsened in recent years. The current Senate has an average age of 62 years, making it among the oldest in US history. Generational diversity has been proven to create stronger and more productive workplaces. The corresponding lack of representation for Generation X (born 1965 to 1980) and Millennials (born after 1980) weighs heavily on the outlook that many of our members have on politics, generally. 

While no worker or elected official should ever be discriminated against for their age, a value our union upholds and fights for every day, it is equally fair to point out that the lack of generational diversity in Congress is alienating to vast swaths of workers and families who deserve better from both parties. 

Too many of those workers and families have been indentured to corporate greed by the evisceration of labor protections in our country. Meanwhile, they have no meaningful, statistical representation in Congress.  

That is a problem that may not favor every recurring incumbent and which certainly does not call for a “wait your turn” mentality.  

It is just one reason why members of our union from across generations were proud to be the first to endorse Ayanna Pressley during her insurgent bid for Congress.  

Similarly, it is another reason why our union members, young and old, were proud to be the first to endorse Joe Kennedy III, 39, in his campaign for US Senate.  

From a strategic standpoint, why give anti-union forces six more years to mount their campaign to retake a US Senate seat? We have a new generation of leadership in Joe Kennedy III whom our members relate to — and who will fight like hell to combat the crises their generation must grapple with every single day.  

The boomers from our ranks remember the late senator Edward Kennedy as the strongest voice for labor the US Senate has ever seen, and the next generation knows they deserve the same. This becomes truer every single day as corporate greed and rampant wage inequality threaten to rip our nation and their future to pieces.

As the baby boomers are aging out of our workforce, our membership is naturally getting younger. With that comes changes in thinking about politics and politicians. Members of Congress who were first elected during the Carter administration have been in office longer than half our membership has been alive. 

Meet the Author

Louis Antonellis

Business manager, IBEW Local 103
My membership is younger and more diverse than ever. They’re motivated, they’re energized, and they’re inspired by Joe Kennedy. The same members who elected me to represent them want to relate directly to their elected officials in Washington, too. 

Lou Antonellis is the business manager for Local 103 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.