It’s Labor Day, and that means another round of stories claiming that unions have no place in our global, high-tech economy world.
Now, that’s really fake news.
Organized labor in 2017 is more united, more prepared and more determined than ever. Working people, through their unions, are determined to counter the corporations and Wall Street players who have rigged our economy and the political process against working families. We’re determined to stop these forces that send our jobs overseas, cut our pay and benefits, disregard safe working conditions, and scheme to block ordinary working people from having a voice on the job and in our democracy.
Joining together, union members can negotiate a better standard of living and a safer workplace, and working people who aren’t union members benefit from this just as much. That’s what members of my union accomplished recently at Verizon, AT&T, United Airlines and other companies. It’s what all working families want.
The fundamental freedom to join together in unions is protected by the U.S. Constitution. The achievements of the union movement on behalf of ordinary working people are woven throughout more than 200 years of U.S. history.
That fundamental freedom is under attack. Unions stand in the way of Wall Street and corporations pitting working people against one another. Our unions are an obstacle, a roadblock to corporate greed. That’s why the super-rich, corporate executives, right-wing think tanks, and their political allies expend so much money and energy to stop us. The attack on working people and the freedom to join a union is intensifying, but we’ve faced worse before. Working people have been knocked down and beaten up for standing together for fair wages and working conditions, but we don’t quit. Today is no different.
Working people who belong to a union know only too well what it would mean to live in the union-free society that corporate America has been dreaming of for decades.
We know what it would mean to go to work every day, with no union voice and no rights on the job — every employee subject to arbitrary wage cuts, firing for no reason, bias, discrimination, and mistreatment at any time, and dangerous working conditions.
Right now, the 1 percent and corporate America are going after working people with a vengeance, looking to eliminate regulations that protect workers on the job, attack workers’ freedom to join unions, and eliminate the ability of working people to speak with a united voice in our political process.
Consider the Trump administration’s proposed executive order on regulations, which requires federal agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to repeal two regulations for every new regulation issued. This is a big payoff to Big Business that will put working people’s lives at risk. It treats workplace health and safety regulations like a bargaining chip, basically saying that if OSHA acts to limit exposure to lead poisoning, other workers will just have to put up with a higher risk of infectious disease or chemical dangers. And why? Because too many in the corporate world care more about their bottom line than common-sense health and safety rules.
As long as there are corporations that ignore workplace safety and health, that move jobs overseas and disregard U.S. communities and workers, and that cheat workers out of hard-earned wages, there will be labor unions to stand up for working people. As long as there are politicians who prefer to look the other way, there will be labor unions standing up for working people.
The union movement is needed more than ever. No other institution in our country does what we do when it comes to fighting for policies that benefit all working families, like a higher minimum wage; keeping Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid secure; standing up for safe communities; and ensuring health and safety on the job.
Right now, we’re in the midst of a new “Gilded Age,” where wages have remained flat for the majority of working people while skyrocketing for the wealthiest Americans. There hasn’t been such a concentration of income in the hands of the richest one-tenth of 1 percent of American since 1928, just before the Great Depression. More than ever, we need a strong union movement, one that enables working people to use their freedom to join together and negotiate improvements in their jobs and their lives.
Chris Shelton is president of the Communications Workers of America, representing 700,000 working men and women in telecommunications, media, airlines, public service and manufacturing.