Labor Day 2012 comes at a turning point in American history. At a time when the wealthiest have prospered beyond the wildest of dreams, the vast majority of working Americans struggle to make ends meet. Millions have seen their incomes flatten, their jobs outsourced, and their hopes for retirement security put on hold, if not quashed completely. At the same time, Wall Street and the politicians who conspire with them have worked overtime to destroy the ability of American workers to join unions and bargain collectively for better wages and benefits.
Across the country today, union members and our allies are pulling together to create a different future for our country. We are playing an active role in campaigns at every level of government that will determine whether America will continue on the perilous, amoral road of inequality or get back on track to expand the middle class and opportunity for all.
This is not a new role for the American labor movement. For more than a century, our members have stood up against tremendous odds to fight for values that all Americans cherish. We ended child labor and promoted the minimum wage. We closed sweatshops and struggled for unemployment insurance. We fought for sick leave and retirement security. We have built programs to expand the American Dream for all.
We have helped create insurance programs that benefit all Americans, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare. We have pushed legislation promoting civil and human rights at home, including the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Law and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Union members have fought for education programs, from pre-school to college, because we knew that a broadly educated workforce is necessary to create a thriving middle class and a healthy democracy.
During the Republican National Convention this week, the cause of working people has been subjected to numerous attacks designed to undermine public support for unions and the role unions play in promoting an economy that works for all. On the opening night of the convention, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley accused President Obama of sacrificing American workers “to pacify the bullying union bosses he counts as political allies,” when he stood up for union members in the manufacturing sector. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie denounced teacher unions while falsely claiming that unions oppose high standards and accountability.
The New York Times reports that the GOP platform “calls for numerous steps that could significantly weaken America’s labor unions — public-sector and private-sector ones — and help speed organized labor’s overall decline.” The platform calls for a nationwide Right to Work for Less law and encourages all states to eliminate the right of public employees to engage in collective bargaining. The platform opposes the right of unions in the private sector to organize through majority sign-up, even though that has been the law of the land since the 1930s.
Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are promoting a radical agenda that would alter the right of American workers to have an effective voice on the job. Like Scott Walker in Wisconsin, they talk in code and say they “will make the hard decisions.” What they really plan is an attack on unions and our efforts to expand opportunity for American workers. They betray the legacy of political leaders from both parties who understood the important role unions play in advancing the cause of the middle class and all Americans.
It is hard to imagine Mitt Romney speaking the words Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower used when he spoke at the first meeting of the combined AFL-CIO in 1955. “Workers want recognition as human beings and as individuals before everything else,” President Eisenhower said. “Good wages, respectable working conditions, reasonable hours, protection of status and security; these constitute the necessary foundations on which you build to reach your higher aims.”
It is hard to imagine Paul Ryan echoing Pres. John F. Kennedy, who extended the right of collective bargaining to the federal workforce because he knew the cause of freedom benefited when workers had a voice. “Those who would destroy or further limit the rights of organized labor – those who would cripple collective bargaining or prevent organizing of the unorganized – do a disservice to the cause of democracy,” JFK said.
We must do more to insure that future Americans live in a country where their voices can be heard and their freedom is secure. This Labor Day, and throughout the crucial next two months, we must show that we are equal to the task. We must fight for the middle class, or see it continue to disappear. We must speak to our family and friends, neighbors and coworkers. We must imagine a world that is better than the one we are living in today, and we must fight to make it a reality. We need to be engaged and active in the struggle to preserve democracy and the American Dream.
Help remind America of all that union workers do by visiting LaborUnionsMadeMyDay.com to share your thoughts and spread the word on Facebook and Twitter. This interactive website features submissions from across the country and serves to remind our fellow citizens about the important work done by union members and how crucial a strong labor movement is for the working middle class. What have labor unions done for you today?