Friday, September 2, 2011

America’s Future Is at Stake this Labor Day

As we celebrate Labor Day 2011, working families face greater attacks on their economic security than at any time since the days of the robber barons in the late 19th Century. In state houses across the country, politicians backed by Wall Street billionaires are attacking fundamental reforms that union members fought and won over many decades, reforms like collective bargaining, child labor laws, safety regulations and even the right of workers to vote. In the U.S. House of Representatives, right-wing forces have passed legislation to eliminate Medicare, undermine Social Security and increase the taxes paid by working families while giving massive benefits to corporations and the very rich.

Rather than pulling together to find real solutions to our problems, anti-worker billionaires and the politicians they fund are mobilizing to transfer all the burdens of taxation onto working families. Under the budget bill supported by all except nine Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate, taxes would increase for the working middle class while the wealthiest one percent would find their taxes cut in half. Millionaires would be taxed at a lower effective rate than anyone working nine to five for a paycheck. That’s not a real solution, and it does nothing to create jobs.

We fought for reforms . . .

Unions opposed these measures. The labor movement worked long and hard to enact reforms like the progressive income tax, Social Security and Medicare. On Labor Day and every day, we need to remember that winning those victories – and so many others – was not a day at the beach or a walk in the park. When unions fought for collective bargaining rights, for the eight hour work day, to expand non-discrimination laws, to restrict the use of child labor and to enforce workplace safety regulations, we were always opposed by Wall Street. Yet, today, too many Americans take those reforms for granted. But many realize how important these reforms were. And they are mobilizing to oppose the concerted efforts underway across the country to repeal them, along with other policies and laws that have promoted social and economic justice.

In Maine, for example, union members fought Governor Paul LePage and his allies who tried to make an end run around child labor laws. We fought their efforts to eliminate restrictions on the hours children can work and to lower wages for teenagers by more than $2 an hour. We are fighting the efforts of right-wing legislators in more than a dozen states who are trying to undermine the Voting Rights Act by requiring voters to obtain government issued identity cards before they can cast a ballot. These misnamed “Voter ID” laws are part of an orchestrated effort to disenfranchise more than 21 million Americans – including many senior citizens – who do not have government-issued identification.

Some politicians want to undermine long-established reforms . . .

We’re calling out the radical proposals by top candidates running for president to undermine long-established reforms backed by America’s labor movement. Texas Governor Rick Perry, for example, honestly believes that America should consider repealing the ability of citizens to vote for their U.S. senators. He’s wrong. Michelle Bachmann calls for an end to the minimum wage. She’s wrong. And Ron Paul says we should eliminate FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and go back to the time when thousands died when hurricanes hit them. He’s dead wrong.

During the last decade, the CEOs at America’s largest corporations have cut nearly 3 million jobs in the United States while adding more than 2 million overseas. They’ve increased their own salaries to obscene levels, while freezing and cutting the pay of their workers. Left to their own devices, they would continue to act irresponsibly and drive our economy through the ditches created by their greed and irresponsibility. They would eliminate every reform that protects their workers or keeps them from hoarding every dollar earned by the increased productivity of America’s workers. Only strong unions stand in their way. Just as we fought for important reforms in generations past, we are fighting for America’s working men and women today.

Working men and women are fighting back . . .

It is heartening, on Labor Day, to reflect on the efforts of working men and women across the country who are mobilizing in numbers not seen in a generation to protect their interests. We see it in Ohio and Wisconsin, where working families have formed a powerful Main Street Movement to fight the efforts of special interests to undermine their ability to provide for their families. Last month in Wisconsin, for example, voters turned out in massive numbers and replaced two Wisconsin state senators who had voted to eliminate the right of collective bargaining that public employees in the state had won more than a half century ago. Working families in Ohio collected more than a million signatures to put a citizens’ veto on the ballot this fall to overturn Draconian anti-worker legislation pushed through in Ohio by their right-wing governor and his Wall Street allies.

Now, more than at any time in recent years, workers are aware of how the deck has been stacked against them. Yet the focus of too many politicians has not been on pulling together to find real solutions or creating good jobs or helping working middle class families hold on to their homes and their dreams for the future. Instead, they are giving even more power to the greedy interests who created the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. These are the same forces that in earlier times created sweatshops, sent children into mines, denied more than half the country the right to vote and hand-picked corrupt senators to represent them on Capitol Hill.

By pulling together in the past, America’s working families set our nation on a different course. This Labor Day, we are sending the powerful CEOs and their political allies a new message: We will not turn back the clock. We are prepared to fight for the future.

-- AFSCME President Gerald W. McEntee

No comments: