Friday, May 02, 2008

There Is Power in a Union

May 1st marks the international worker's holiday known as May Day, which commemorates the fight for the eight-hour work day. The day was chosen in memory of the Haymarket incident in Chicago in 1886 to honor the struggles of striking workers and the very real threats to their health, safety and even lives that workers have undertake when choosing to exercise the right to organize and form unions.

The right to organize and join a union is a fundamental right, which must be preserved and maintained if we are to keep our nation strong. Unions built this nation and built the standard of living that all Americans today enjoy. With the help of trade unions in the United States, workers were able to gain new rights such as the forty-hour work week, worker's pensions, compensation for injury obtained on the job, and living wages.

Without unions we would look more like the developing world, where workers have few rights, face hazardous job conditions and receive little compensation for their employment. We would not have the strength and innovation that our economy has without the contribution of our workers and we would not have a healthy and inspired workforce without our unions.

Unfortunately union membership rests at 18% of the current labor force, making unions seemingly irrelevant to a vast majority of the workforce. The reasons for this trend, which is historical and long term, are complex. Union membership has declined from its historical highs during the middle of the twentieth century. As workers transitioned out of factory blue collar jobs into the corporate work force union membership was seen as a product of a bygone era, not useful in the corporate culture most middle class workers found themselves in during the post-war era.

In addition to the worker transition from the factory to the boardroom, union-busting strategies became more sophisticated and more pressing. Unions have been painted with a broad brush by the right wing propaganda mill as corrupt, a danger to the business climate, a threat to corporate profits, and a danger to international competitiveness. The trend in the free trade era has been a race to the bottom for wages, labor costs and worker health and safety conditions.

The free trade agreements of the 1980's and 1990's have ensured that an entire generation of Americans will once again have to fight for their rights if they want to have decent working conditions. The same is true of the working class of the developing world, who have been impacted by the same development trends which have affected American workers.

That is why unions matter. They matter because the fundamental reality of the working class is that corporations will always seek to maximize profits. The investing class will always seek the highest profit possible for their investors, and they will always seek to reduce labor costs, which are usually their biggest expenditure. Whether it is exporting hi-tech jobs to India or importing sub-standard goods from sweatshops in China or encouraging low wage immigrant workers to compete with trade jobs in the construction industry, the strategy is the same around the globe.

Unions represent working class solidarity. Regardless of whether you work in a corporate office or a factory or on a farm, there is a union for you. Unions are good not just for workers but they are also good for investors. Unions build strength and pride in a workplace and ensure that workers have a sense of safety and security in their occupation.

As a candidate for federal office I support the right of workers to organize in all occupations. I support the increase of the minimum wage to at least $10.50 an hour plus benefits. I support universal single payer health care for all Americans. I support the withdrawal of the United States from Treaties of Obligation such as NAFTA, CAFTA and the FTAA, which have driven down wages around the world while boosting corporate profits. I support full funding for government agencies designed to protect worker's health and safety.

It has been a long time since those workers stood in the streets of Chicago organizing for basic rights. History has shown us that the right to organize and form unions lifts the boat of all Americans. Unions are a win-win strategy for workers and managers. With unions we have better working conditions, better health and safety conditions, better wages for our workers and increased profits for investors. So let's make America strong and support the right to organize for all Americans

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