Labor Day And The Middle Class: Thanks, Unions!

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Chances are, if you read this blog, my fellow Politicos, you go to work every day (or did, if you’ve retired or been laid off). I was brought up to believe that working for a living is a noble thing, an honest endeavor. As the daughter of retired Navy/union engineer and a nurse, I was brought  up to believe that if you work hard, you will be able to provide a decent life, a comfortable life, for yourself and your kids. And for my parents’ generation, unions were a big part of what made that promise come true. Generation after generation, this promise held true: middle class families could make a decent wage, have health care for their families, own a home of their own, save for the occasional vacation, send their kids to college and retire to a modest life with a small pension from military service or their union. The American Dream.

Now, we have wandered so far astray from the possibility of that dream that my parents cannot fathom how we manage to make ends meet. And, frankly, sometimes we wonder, too. We go without much that they took for granted as a benefit of working hard. Most folks who bought homes when we did, that so-crucial core value of The American Dream, are upside-down in their mortgages, if they are lucky and haven’t been screwed out of it by the loan remod industry (once again, let’s put the fox in charge of the henhouse, because it worked so well with Wall Street). When you don’t have equity, you have to save project-by-project to make any improvements to your home. That’s challenging when you are trying to save for your own retirement, trying to make up for losses that a highly unstable economy served up in big, heaping portions (again, let’s let greed regulate itself) and trying to raise 2.5 kids. The cost of health benefits go through the roof, if you are fortunate enough to have them at all – every 12 minutes, someone dies due to lack of coverage. And saving for the kids for college? Still paying off our own student loans, in an industry bubble that’s about to hit as big as Wall Street did. (Listen to my interview with the makers of Default: The Student Loan Movie on A World of Progress Radio or subscribe to our show/download from iTunes.) The American Dream has now become a pipe dream for most of my generation.

What’s attempted to put the American Dream into its final death throes has been the GOP attacks on working people in this country. Governor Scott Walker decided that he’d score some points within his party by eliminating the right to collectively bargain for teachers in Wisconsin. I really think he thought he’d be able to just run the table, and that voter apathy would allow him to mop the floor with the labor movement, effectively killing it off, for all intents and purposes. And from there, hey, he’d write his own ticket with the Republicans. A Senate seat, and, who knows? Maybe even a V.P. slot on the next ticket. Who could resist the guy that kicked Labor’s ass, right? The world would be his corporate-funded oyster.

In the same way that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld stated we’d be greeted as liberators in Iraq, there was an unexpected response to this attack on working people. The cakewalk to the V.P. slot wasn’t as smooth as Walker had hoped. Remember this?

What made folks stand up for union rights? There were a million reasons. First off, Walker, being the idiot that he is, picked the wrong union to mess with. Think about it: everyone can remember a teacher that made a difference in their lives; the public understands how hard teachers work for their paychecks; and we teachers damn well know how to organize a large group of people – once you’ve handled a class of 34 unruly, hormonal fifth graders, well, any size group is manageable! (…Plus, we make killer signs. It’s all those bulletin boards we’ve made over the years!) These are smart folks who serve our nation admirably, performing a service that our democracy cannot survive without: the education of our populace. Secondly, the Rethugs have screwed the middle class out of so much for so long, a tipping point had been reached. And thirdly, one word: solidarity. When you mess with one union, you are messing with them all. Teachers, teamsters, plumbers, police, sanitation workers, service industry folks: when they band together, the country can effectively be shut down.

And it is that brotherhood and sisterhood that we honor today, the integrity of the working folks of this nation, who will still stand by each other to fight for so many issues that we have come to take for granted today. Think about what the Labor Movement has brought to all our lives, whether we’re a union member or not:

  • The five day work week, AKA the weekend!
  • Time and a half for overtime pay
  • Safety rules in the workplace
  • Minimum wage
  • Social Security
  • Medicare
  • Child labor laws (I still can’t believe the GOP is working on this one….)
  • Sick days
  • Vacation pay 
  • Maternity/paternity leave
  • Pensions
  • Due process rights – you can’t be fired without cause
  • Eight hour work days
  • Worker’s Comp for on-the-job injuries
  • Health insurance benefits
  • Wage equity
  • And…The Middle Class

That these concepts exist is directly due to the unions of our country fighting hard to make them a reality. Of course, the Rethugs will continue to try to rid us of these burdens to corporate profit-making. We the people must continue to protect what little is ours – we need to fight the GOP attacks against unions, as they are, ultimately, direct attacks on the rights we hold dear (see list above). Unions may not be perfect. But they’re still the only protection that working folks have against the pure corporate greed that runs rampant in our country more than ever before.

Enjoy the day off, if you are fortunate enough to have it. Have a barbecue with the family and your friends. And make sure the kids know it’s not just another day off of school: today is a day to honor the working men and women of this nation, and the fact that our citizens still believe the list above is important for all people, not just the rich, not just for corporate America. The GOP will continue to chip away, and sometimes try the full-court press. All the more reason that we, the people, the working families in America must continue to fight back. Not just for ourselves, but for the rights of our children and grandchildren to have some semblance of that American Dream we’re all struggling to reach.

Happy Labor Day. Fly the flag, as it’s a national holiday and it is patriotic to support the working people of our country, no matter what the GOP and the RWNJs say. My thanks to all those union members, including my folks, who fought long and hard for the life we lead today. And thanks, unions, for giving birth to the Middle Class. We’ll continue to fight the good fight to preserve it.

Don’t forget, Politicos, to tune in every Sunday at 4 Pacific and 7 Eastern to hear my rants and ravings at A World of Progress Radio: Kim and I co-host with great guests, music, and my features, Kitchen Table Politics and The Undercover Liberal. Missed a show? Subscribe to our show on iTunes. You can follow us on twitter at @awopradio and of course, my own tweets @mommapolitico. Many thanks to so many of you who’ve already shown your support. And thanks to everyone for supporting online progressive radio!

5 Comments

  1. RE: When you mess with one union, you are messing with them all. Teachers, teamsters, plumbers, police, sanitation workers, service industry folks: when they band together, the country can effectively be shut down.I do have a question and this is NOT a flame just another tomboy trying to see the other viewpoint. Why would you want to shut down this country? This would destroy my very small specialty retail store that I work at 6+ days a week?  I am not wealthy, but trying as you to live the American Dream. The point I am getting from from your post is collective bargaining will help ALL union members but not anyone else. In fact it WILL hurt the small businesswoman.  We can't all be union members.  Some of us have invested our life's saving to own a piece of the pie.  Why would you want to hurt me? I live in Florida a "Work at Will" state.  In Florida there is no due process.  An employer can fire anyone at any time for any reason, or no reason at all.  Most Floridians work despite the lack of due process. Some of us were able to even save some cash to start a small business. During the UPS strike a few years ago my high season was ruined by striking workers. It cost me almost an entire year's profits!  Yes they received some of their demands but at what cost? Thanks for letting me comment and please open the dialog with me or others like me.Tomboy in the sun,LH

  2. Hey MP,Just wanted to let you know I'm thinking about ya!  Hope you're well, gotta refill my cup now!

  3. I'm southern. Born in NC and spent a lot of time in SC. I appreciate the success and battles fought by unions in the past that you mentioned.  I grew up middle class but also in a right to work state. In the early 90s my father's job was actually in jeopardy because of a Teamsters threat. I know a lot of people who support unions do so because of their fathers, mothers, grandparents, etc did.I'm a Generation Y, southern Independent who tends to side more with Dems than Reps. However, I'm not convinced unions are still needed and fear they are one of the reasons companies go overseas.But, I'm willing to be educated . . .

  4. Thanks, Jittery! Afraid the radio show is taking up my time and have been lax in my postings and visits…good to hear from you – hope your Thanksgiving was wonderful and your holidays are bright!  My show is Sundays 4P/7E, on blogtalkradiocom/awop – you can catch it live or listen in the archive there afterward…or even download us on iTunes! Hope to post soon-miss my readers and blogpals like you! Thanks for coming by!

  5. Thanks for coming by, Monbid. And thanks for having an open mind, and wanting to have a respectful discussion! :) Unons are not perfect. I agree with you there. They have become powerful forces. But I still feel they are necessary. When I hear about the GOP trying to recall child labor laws, working to actively eliminate OSHA laws, trying to union-bust and completely eliminate collective bargaining, and laying off teachers, firefighters, nurses and police officers while making obscene corporate profits by doing so, I am convinced that unions are still necessary. And when the Supreme Court says that corporations are people, that doesn't give folks like you and me a chance in Hell over the kind of influence that the mega-millions corporations can now spend to influence the outcome of elections.  Unions are one of the few liberal-leaning forces that can influence elections – our only fighting chance, you could say.It's a shame in this country that, while folks like you and I are probably more moderate than not, our political parties can't seem to put their own interests (read: greed) aside and focus on the real needs of the working people of this country – jobs, security, a way to take care of our elderly, to keep our country healthy and heal the sick without breaking the bank. I am afraid that those special interests (banks, Wall Street, the insurance industry, corporations) will be able to out-vote folks like you and me, especially with the voter suppression going on across the nation. Well, there's the Reader's Digest version of my argument, Monbid. What say you? Convinced? ;) Either way, please feel free to come by anytime. 

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I refuse to cave to a minivan. I am still a tomboy - comfortable in Levi's, my Yankees cap and Converse. And I always have a political opinion...hell, I always have an opinion, period. The hubby, my kids and my friends think I should run for office. Maybe one day. But for now, Momma Politico blogs. Peruse, enjoy, and know that our busy lives are as significant as those in The Washington Post. Cheers, Heidi Haines AKA Perry MacNeil Momma Politico

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