Need for unions remains as strong as ever

September 2, 2013

Need for unions remains as strong as ever

By Gary Moore

Today is Labor Day, a holiday to celebrate the American worker.

And while hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans are enjoying the day off, it’s important to remember why we have this holiday, and why we have safe workplaces, health care, a 40-hour workweek, paid family leave, U.S. factories free of child exploitation, middle-class wages and all the standards that most people take for granted.

It didn’t just happen by itself.

It happened because generations of working people fought for — sometimes even died for — the right to organize and the right to bargain collectively.

It happened because of the hard work of our parents and grandparents and the strength in numbers that came from unions that represented them.

Those unions made sure that as our nation’s wealth and productivity grew, so, too, did the income and benefits of the people who created that wealth.

Strong unions and collective bargaining lifted millions out of poverty and built the great American middle class. And it’s a vibrant middle class that keeps our economy and democracy strong.

But even as we celebrate Labor Day, working families in Tennessee face greater attacks on their economic security than at any time since the beginnings of the labor movement in America.

Our middle class is being systematically dismantled, as fast as big corporations can ship our manufacturing base overseas.

It’s being dismantled by billionaires and corporate special interests who are attacking fundamental reforms that union members fought for over many decades — reforms such as collective bargaining, overtime pay and even the right of workers to vote.

It’s being dismantled by Gov. Bill Haslam and the extreme legislature that has further rigged the economy against workers by driving down American wages that were once the envy of the world, cutting insurance payments to the families of injured workers and stripping away the rights of people who work for a living.

It’s being dismantled by Republicans in Congress, such as Sen. Lamar Alexander, who want to do away with minimum-wage laws while at the same time voting for budget-busting tax breaks for CEOs who take home 972 times as much as their workers.

They are taking us back to a time when workers couldn’t stand up to corrupt CEOs and couldn’t speak with one voice for fair wages, justice and economic opportunity.

Tennessee workers won’t be the only victims of this greed-fueled power grab. Our entire nation will suffer because our economy only works if Tennesseans have a path to work their way into the middle class.

Our uniting goal should be to rebuild a middle class economy that’s ready to compete — and win — the good-paying jobs of the future, and fighting for the millions of Tennesseans who want nothing more than the dignity of work, and a good wage is how we achieve it.

On Labor Day especially, we need to remember how our victories to improve the lives of workers were won. By pulling together, America’s working families overcame corporate corruption, combated inequality and set our nation on a different course by rewarding work, not just wealth.

What the wealthy and well-connected figured out is that they have strength in numbers, too: the number of dollars they contribute to the campaigns of politicians.

But freedom is not the right to buy politicians; freedom is the right to a fair wage, a decent life and hope for the future.

Once again, we need to counter the power of their big money, and that’s the power of big numbers. Ordinary people demanding to have our voices heard, in Washington, in Nashville and at the bargaining table.

It’s time working and middle class Tennesseans used our strength in numbers to reclaim the American Dream by demanding that our elected officials work not for billionaires and corporate special interests but for us.

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