For some, Labor Day is simply a date on the calendar marking the unofficial end of summer: a point where the seasons change, children are back in school, and the days start getting shorter.
For me, Labor Day is a time to commemorate the sacrifices and contributions of America’s workers. Our country’s history has been shaped by the men and women who work for a living. We are what makes America great, and Monday is our day.
This could not be more true after the roller coaster year we have had. In New Hampshire we successfully fought back against Right to Work for Less and the attacks on our collective bargaining rights. The Legislature tried to silence our voice and in turn made us stronger in our solidarity.
On Labor Day, we celebrate the great strides we have made over the last century. Today, every American has the right to a quality education, the right to organize or a join a union, and the chance to retire with security for a healthy future. For generations, these basic rights brought millions of families out of poverty into the middle class. These rights helped to fight back against segregation and nepotism – because it does not matter who does the work, all workers are entitled to the same wages.
The labor movement has accomplished many great things throughout the years: weekends, 40-hour work weeks, sick time, vacation time, safety regulations, and retirements. Yet after all the work we have done, some people label us as ‘thugs’. They push messaging to demonize workers who are struggling to make ends meet. Across the country, people work and live paycheck to paycheck. Some people have to work two and three jobs just to pay their rent. There is not one state in our great nation where a person can work a 40-hour a week job for minimum wage and still be able to afford an apartment of their own.
This is because workers’ wages have been flat for nearly four decades while “the 1%” have reaped all benefits of our increased productivity.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Bread and Roses strike – and since that time, the gap between the working class and the “1%” has never been wider than it is now.
September 17th marks the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement – and the visions for America’s future have never been more different.
These anniversaries come in the heat of an election campaign that is pitting the ultra-wealthy against everyone else.
This could not be more evident than with Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who made his money by breaking companies into pieces and shipping jobs overseas. Now he is working to push for lower tax rates for himself and his ultra-wealthy friends.
We need political leaders who will stand up and say “no” to the policies that pushed our economy into recession in the first place. We need to end the Bush era tax cuts and start requiring everyone to pay their fair share. This is what we need to do to bring our economy back. However, the corporations will not let this message get out. A Supreme Court case two years ago allows corporations to use their vast amounts of money to drown out the voices of the working people.
This was evident in the recall election in Wisconsin, where the Koch Brothers and other Super PACs out spent the Democrats nine-to-one. “The 1%” are dumping millions into secret PACs and “527 organizations” that use anonymous money to buy advertising and attempt to buy elections.
Why should corporate interests have greater “free speech” rights than you and me? Why should “the 1%” have more pull with some of our politicians than “the 99%” of voters do?
Millions of American families are struggling to get by, living day-to-day while “the 1%” focuses on tax cuts for the rich. Corporate interests are pouring money into campaign advertising, trying to drown out the voices of people like me, and you.
Martin Luther King, Jr. knew the history of workers’ struggles for economic rights. “The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress,” he said in 1965. “Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old age pensions, government relief for the destitute, and above all new wage levels that meant not mere survival, but a tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted it until they were overcome.”
This election year, Mitt Romney and the other “captains of industry” are trying to take back all the rights that workers have fought for, and died for, since the Bread and Roses strike. Are we going to sit back and let them do that?
I will continue to fight for all workers because it is the right thing to do. I will continue to speak my message to all who will hear. I will not let our country go back a hundred years to when workers were forced to work 80 hours a week for pennies while wealthy mill owners made millions.
This Labor Day, please take the time to remember how far we have come – and how much we stand to lose.