Pivotal Moment For U.S. Workers
Labor Day has marked the victories of unions and America’s working people for the last 136 years. It’s a day of remembrance for the fight for workers’ rights, the very concept of the eight-hour work day, the weekend, the elimination of child labor in favor of universal education, and the injustice of unsafe, lethal working conditions.
It is time for us to return to the same principles of economic justice and working class solidarity that delivered those victories. Our history shows that when workers come together in a union and exercise their collective voice on the job, we transform the economy and the daily lives of all our brothers and sisters who work.
America’s working people and their unions have faced many challenges over the last few years, but with adversity comes opportunity. Today, corporations and monied special interests try to pit us against each other as they rig the economy to work for the wealthy few at the expense of the working class. In the last year, we have seen incredible grass-roots action in response to threats to our freedoms and our rights. Hundreds of thousands of newly organized union members are reclaiming their power in the workplace, and three-quarters of them are younger than 35.
This summer, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, delivering a politically motivated verdict that affects millions of workers across America and hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians. Their decision overturned more than 40 years of established labor law. Many were ready to spell the end for the labor movement, for fair workplaces and for workers’ rights.
From the teachers striking and winning in West Virginia, to the brothers and sisters in Missouri who repealed “right to work” legislation at the ballot box for the first time in history, to right here in Pennsylvania when we proved this spring that our economic values are more unifying and energizing than the divisive rhetoric of politicians, we are proving them wrong. We are still fighting; we are marching, striking and organizing.
As the labor movement, we fight for equality and the economic dignity for all workers regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, religion or who they love. Everyone has the right to respectful treatment and the opportunity to make a living for themselves and their families. Right now, our country is divided along many lines, emotions are raw, and many of us feel like we are not being heard. This is a pivotal moment, not just for the labor movement, the civil and equal rights movements; it is a moment all of us to refocus on the issues that bring us together in solidarity.
And this moment could not be more significant in its magnitude. We are at a point in history where we are seeing yet another opportunity to create change in the workplace through organizing in a union, by standing up against sexual harassment and gender discrimination, or ending the prejudice that exists based on race and sexual orientation or protesting the consistent failure to care for workers’ safety and rights.
Labor unions and members have been fighting for legislation to protect workers for years; bills like public sector worker safety, the protection of workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance, and addressing discrimination in the workplace.
Yet our state Legislature is often unable to act on behalf of the working men and women of this commonwealth. These are not partisan issues; this is about your right to security and safety on the job, and to come home at the end of the day.
We need courageous Pennsylvanians to stand up and pass the Jake Schwab Worker Safety Bill, the Pennsylvania Workplace Freedom Act, and the “seven” sexual harassment bills sitting in Harrisburg waiting to protect our sisters and brothers from abuse. It’s not about Democrats and Republicans; it’s about the working people of Pennsylvania.
It is all too easy to point fingers and accuse, judge and sow the seeds of division, but shame does not lead to changed minds or a community of dignity. Only when we come together and demand that each of us is treated with respect on the job, in our communities and in our government, will we become the change we seek. What we need now to mark 2018’s Labor Day is a profound and rigorous rededication to the fight for economic justice.