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Jeff Ritterman - "A Hungry Man is an Angry Man"

My colleague, City Councilman Jeff Ritterman asked me to circulate the following:



Open letter from Councilmember Jeff Ritterman concerning the Chevron Refinery Expansion  



"them belly full but we hungry

a hungry mob is an angry mob"


Bob Marley from "Dem belly full" 



"A Hungry Man is an Angry Man" -  final comment made by a disgruntled building trades worker during Richmond City Council Open Forum 7/21/09


The building trades workers have lost their jobs and they are angry.  Homes, families, and the health and well-being of hard working men and women hang in the balance as the negotiations continue over the Chevron Expansion.


Last night, at Richmond's city council meeting, the anger seemed mostly directed at the council itself - or perhaps at those on the council, like myself, who don't believe that pressuring the plaintiffs is the appropriate course of action.  


I believe that the best course of action is an alliance between the building trades workers and the plaintiffs, working toward a refinery upgrade which is aimed at protecting our community just as much as it is aimed at making Chevron a profit.


Why is it not expected that the very first place to invest refinery profits should be in making the surrounding community as safe as possible?  Throughout the discussion on Chevron's expansion project, I heard over and over again how the expansion was important in order to replace a 100 year old infrastructure.  That should have happened already.  Now, it should happen immediately and the workers should be put back to work doing that. Immediately. 


There is no better use for refinery profits than to make sure that Richmond residents, who already suffer the highest asthma rates in the county, are as protected as modern technology allows.  Right now the refinery profit is going mostly to wealthy individuals, who either save the money or spend it on luxury items.  While unemployment rises astronomically, there is a waiting list for yachts. 


That is our reality.  We are in the midst of a crisis. We are the most unequal of all of the wealthy nations on earth. This has happened since Reagan's presidency and has accelerated greatly during both Bush presidencies.  Wealth and income has been shifted from the middle and lower classes to the very wealthy.  We are becoming more and more unequal (see attached).  We are simply no longer a middle class society.  Our labor unions lack strength.  That's why the national union cut a deal with Chevron. This was done out of weakness, not out of strength.  Ultimately that deal undermined the otherwise potential alliance between labor and the community.  Developing the alliance of labor, the community and environmental groups is the only way out of the quagmire in which we find ourselves.  We cannot move forward without that alliance.


The redistribution of income from the bottom and the middle to the very top has been resulted in an enormous growth in corporate wealth and power.  Chevron is California's biggest corporation.  It pays lower rates of income tax now than it did during Reagan's presidency. It has amassed huge profits and has distributed them mostly to the already rich.  You can't blame ChevronThat's what a corporation is supposed to do by law, make money.





It is up to civil society to understand the forces at work and to redistribute income, wealth and power back to the bottom and to the middle.  That's why the alliance we need to solve the problem is one of the workers joining with the plaintiffs and other members of the community.


In addition to the problem of growing inequality, is a problem of perception:  the maldistribution of income, wealth and power is denied in our society.  It is invisible to most of us most of the time, even though we have a nagging suspicion that things are not as they should be.


So my plea is that we all awaken from our slumber.  We must understand that what needs most to be redressed is a terrible imbalance of power, wealth and income.  The creation of this imbalance has been the conscious effort of many.  It must be our conscious effort, now, to rebuild middle class America.


Understanding this leads naturally to an alliance between the laborers, the community and the environmentalists.


I am not bashing Chevron here.  The corporation is very good at making gasoline.  What is accomplished at the Richmond Refinery is no small feat.  Thankfully, there is a deep ethic of workplace safety at the refinery.  Mike Coyle, the general manager, is a very decent man.  And he does his job well.  But Chevron cannot have the best interests of the community at heart.  A corporation is set up to maximize profits.  The leaders don't live in Richmond and senior leadership rarely come to Richmond.  Their job is to make gasoline.  Our job is to protect the community and the environment for all time. 


It is also our job to provide economic opportunities for our residents.  In order to do that, we need not only the alliance of workers, neighbors and environmentalists, but also a new partnership with Chevron.  I believe that there is common ground to be found.  Richmond can be a safe and healthy city; our businesses and our people can prosper together.


Jeff Ritterman, M.D.

Richmond City Council