Monday, September 5, 2011

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!