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Berry Craig: ‘An injury to one is the concern of all’

By BERRY CRAIG
AFT Local 1360

Knights_of_labor_seal_standardI often think about the old Knights of Labor on Labor Day.

Okay, I’m a retired history teacher who still packs a union card.

The Knights “tried to teach the American wage-earner that he was a wage-earner first and a bricklayer, carpenter, miner, shoemaker, after; that he was a wage-earner first and a Catholic, Protestant, Jew, white, black, Democrat, Republican, after,” historian Norman Ware wrote.

The Knights stressed that whatever else divided working people, work itself was what they all had in common. Work was, by far, the most important factor in their lives. Thus, workers should unite as members of the working class, the Knights urged.

Active in the late 19th-century, the Knights were among the pioneers in our union movement. There were even Knights in western Kentucky, where I was born, reared and still live. The Fulton group published a newspaper called The Toiler.

The paper and the Knights are long gone.

But the union’s basic principle is still relevant: Working people, no matter what jobs we have, are wage earners first. “An injury to one is the concern of all,” was the Knights’ famous motto. It still rings true.

Anyway, I spent twenty-four years as a teacher. I was a newspaper reporter for almost 13 years before that.

But I was always a wage-earner and a worker first. I belong to the working class just like a factory worker, construction worker, dock worker, miner, truck driver, carpenter, painter, plumber, electrician, firefighter, garbage collector, grocery clerk, secretary and every other worker. We all belong to the working class.

History is plain about what has most benefitted the working class: unions and New Deal-style government action on our behalf. A big part of the New Deal guaranteed our right to organize unions and bargain collectively for better wages, hours, working conditions and benefits.

My maternal grandparents, Susie and Diehl Vest of Mayfield, my hometown, remembered how the union and the New Deal made their lives better.

“Bobo” belonged to the Almagamated Clothing Workers at the old Merit Clothing Co. “Grandadden” worked out of Paducah Painters Local 500, which is still around.

The Vests voted for Franklin D. Roosevelt all four times he ran. (FDR and Abraham Lincoln tie as their grandson’s favorite presidents.)

Senator and Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey was one of my favorite politicians. Molly Ivins was one of my favorite newspaper columnists. Both of them also knew what helped the working class the most.

“America is a living testimonial to what free men and women, organized in free democratic trade unions, can do to make a better life,” said HHH, whom I voted for in 1968, the first year I was eligible to cast a ballot.

Said Ivins: “Although it is true that only about 20 percent of American workers (sadly, that percentage has shrunk as so many of our good union jobs have been shipped out of the country) are in unions, that 20 percent sets the standards across the board in salaries, benefits and working conditions. If you are making a decent salary in a non-union company, you owe that to the unions. One thing that corporations do not do is give out money out of the goodness of their hearts.”

Happy Labor Day!

Labor Day 2015: A New Hope For Labor

 

labordayOnce again we have reached Labor Day.

Labor Day is the unofficial end of the summer and for many people it is an excuse to have everyone over for one last BBQ. Too many have forgotten what Labor Day is all about. They have forgotten why we celebrate Labor Day.

I would be lying if I told you that my family spent Labor Day talking about workers and strikes. Like most Americans, we spent the long weekend traveling for one last summer trip.

I will say one of my first memories was walking the picket line with my mother and hundreds of other nurses who were protesting budget cuts that eliminated jobs and reduced pay. I do not even remember what union it was that led the protest or if my mother was a member before the strike. Those are things we just never talked about when I was a kid.

As I grew up I learned more and more about the history of Labor Day. I learned of the horrible working conditions of the late 1800’s and the early 1900’s. I learned the difference between a strike and a lock-out. I learned about unions and how they shaped who we are as workers today.

In short, I learned about the true meaning of “labor” and why we celebrate Labor Day.

The sad fact is that many people have forgotten that it was the labor unions that fought for better working conditions and on-the-job safety programs. It was the labor unions that fought for eight-hour workdays, weekends, and overtime. It was the labor unions that fought for paid vacation time, paid sick leave, healthcare and retirement security. It was the labor unions that ensured equal pay for equal work regardless of sex or the color of your skin.

It was a labor union contract that first gave same-sex couples the right to include their partners on their healthcare plans, giving them the same rights as any other married couple.

It was labor unions that kept the corporations in check, refusing to let their greed dominate the needs of their workers and their communities.  By demanding higher wages in the mills and shops, unions helped to lift the wages of all workers. They created the middle class that we are so desperately searching for again. Workers were paid well and they spent that money in their communities, and that led to decades of economic prosperity.

However, in the late 1970’s a new era of individual greed began to surface and people forgot about working together. Manufacturing began to slow down as technology became more dominant. Workers moved out of the factories and into the office buildings.

Over time, membership in labor unions declined and the middle class began to shrink along with it. Workers wages became stagnant as productivity skyrocketed. Women began to enter the workforce en masse; some to fulfill personal goals and others because the traditional, one-working-parent household could not pay the bills anymore.

After thirty years of decline, what do we as a country have to show for it? We have a country with more than 15% of our citizens living in poverty, and 1-in-5 children living in poverty. We have millions of people working fifty, sixty, or even seventy hours a week just to feed their families.

America used to be different. American companies used to respect workers, not treat them like disposable cups, tossing them aside for a new one every day. American companies used to take pride our country. These companies paid their taxes and together we built a national highway system, airports, hospitals, parks, and libraries.

What happened to that country?   Are we completely doomed?

Fast Food Strike 2014 (FLIKR Annette Bernhardt)

Fast Food Strike 2014 (FLIKR Annette Bernhardt)

I say no. The tide has reached its lowest point and is beginning to rise again. People are beginning to see that we need to stand up together and fight for each other and our communities. People are starting to demand the right to form a union in their workplace, whether they are college professors or fast food workers. Public polling shows more support for labor unions than any time in the past 15 years.

I see it in my own children too. Recently at a family get-together someone mentioned that they just purchased trinket from Wal-Mart. My oldest daughter piped right up and said, “We don’t shop at Wal-Mart because they treat their workers badly.”

My wife and I looked at each other and smiled. Parenting win!

So this Labor Day take a few minutes to read about the true history of Labor Day. Talk with your kids about what it was like for people before labor unions. Ask yourself: do you want to go back to those days?

As for me, I will be honoring those union members of the past who fought and died in the labor movement, by walking down Main Street in our local Labor Day parade with my union brothers & sisters, my wife, and my children, proudly wearing my union T-shirt for all to see.

Happy Labor Day.

 

 

 

Labor Day Statement From LiUNA President Terry O’Sullivan

LIUNA Banner“Labor Day is about recognizing the dignity of hard work and those who do it.” 

Washington, DC: Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) General President Terry O’Sullivan today made the following statement regarding Labor Day.

Today the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) honors all those who worked, fought, struggled, sacrificed, and even laid down their lives for justice in the work place. We also call upon all Americans and Canadians to think about, honor, and thank the blue-collar men and women who keep both of our countries running. Labor Day is about recognizing the dignity of hard work and those who do it.

LIUNA is proud to represent half a million construction workers, healthcare workers, public and federal employees, mail handlers, and other hard working men and women. We are proud that among our members are military veterans who have traded their helmets for hard hats, and now are building strong, middle-class lives for themselves and their families. Our members are not only the greatest asset of our union; they, and all workers, are the lifeblood of our two nations.

Labor Day is a time to recognize those who are frequently overlooked: the working class heroes who labor, day in and day out, at jobs that are essential to our lives, our economy, and our world. Increasingly, these workers and their families are losing economic ground and political power, while being dismissed and disparaged by many policy-making elites. Too often, we look right through the people whose hard work, dedication, and back-breaking labor have built our two great countries.

This Labor Day, let’s resolve to start turning things around. Let’s begin working together to close the growing gap between haves and have-nots. Let’s push our elected officials to stop playing political games and start passing legislation to move our nations forward, create jobs, and solve problems. And let’s truly honor working men and women by respecting them, thanking them, and strengthening their rights to band together and bargain for better pay, benefits, and working conditions.

New Video: AFGE Celebrates Labor Day with Call for Solidarity

Activists from nation’s largest federal employee union discuss power of unity at the worksite

WASHINGTON – A new Labor Day video from the American Federation of Government Employees highlights the importance of solidarity in improving working conditions for people across the country and around the world.

In the video, nine union activists from AFGE – the largest union for federal and D.C. government employees in the nation – discuss what the term “solidarity” means to them.

“Solidarity is a ‘we, not me’ mentality,” says Paul Ferris of AFGE Local 2516 in El Paso, Texas. “It’s where we work together for others.”

“It’s all about sticking together and using the power of one voice to take another step, to make another day better, for workers,” says Gabrielle Martin of AFGE Local 3230 in Denver.

“Whether it’s in the trades, in the white collar, the blue collar, whether it’s this country or another country, we have to stand for all workers’ rights,” says Kathleen Dahl of AFGE Local 2028 in Pittsburgh.

The video was produced in-house by AFGE’s Communications Department. To view more AFGE videos, visit www.youtube.com/afgeonline.

Labor Day Must be Much More Than a One-Day Celebration

Transportation Trade Department LogoWashington, DC — The following statement was issued by Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), in advance of the Labor Day holiday:

“For far too long, our country has distanced itself from the true meaning of Labor Day. Labor Day can’t be just another federal holiday – it must be a celebration of the contributions of working people, and a commitment by elected officials to advance policies that help working families.

“For generations, the United States has been a place that honors hard work, respects the need for balance between the responsibilities of a job and family and empowers its people to pursue the American dream. That empowerment has come from the simple notion that working people can come together to form strong unions and bargain collectively for fair wages, good benefits and safe working conditions.

“Sadly, these values are being undermined by brutal attacks on the jobs and rights of working people by well-funded special interests. Even worse, these sinister forces have the backing of many public officials at the highest levels of government who are leading the charge down this dangerous and unsustainable path.

“We have come to a tipping point in this country. Our middle class is shrinking and the people we elect are failing to advance common sense policies — like funding transportation infrastructure — that for decades have fueled prosperity, boosted American competitiveness and expanded the middle class.

“We will use this Labor Day as a springboard to demand more from public officials, so that America is once again a place that honors working people every day, not just on the first Monday in September.”

Kelly Ayotte Wishes Her DC And Wall Street Special Interests A Happy Labor Day

Concord, N.H. – As Granite Staters prepare to celebrate Labor Day this weekend, it’s important to remember Kelly Ayotte’s record of putting her special interest backers before New Hampshire’s workers and small businesses. 

Since going to Washington, Ayotte has fought to roll back Wall Street reform and protect special tax breaks for big oil companies and outsourcers, while making New Hampshire’s families and businesses pay the price. From voting multiple times against raising the minimum wage and ensuring paycheck fairness to voting to cut Pell Grants and opposing a measure to help young people to refinance their student loans, Ayotte has consistently voted against the economic interests of New Hampshire.

“With Kelly Ayotte’s record of putting her special interest backers before New Hampshire’s families and businesses, it’s crucial that we ensure that next Labor Day is Ayotte’s last as a U.S. Senator,” said New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley.   

The Evolution Of Labor Day (Info-Graphic)

As we approach Labor Day it is important to stop and take a look back at how far we have come as organized labor.  180 years ago adults and children were working 12-hour days, 7 days a week, and they still “owed their soul to the company store.”

Throughout the last 200 years organized labor has moved America forward, fighting for all workers.  During the early years, labor unions were focused on three main items: the number of hours per day/week, hourly wages, and workplace safety.  Years have gone by, yet we are still fighting the same battles over hours, wages, and workplace safety.

Some people say that labor is dead, or dying.  I say we need unions now more than ever.  Working families are struggling as corporations and industry fat cats’ reap all the rewards of our hard work.  The rise in income inequality and the suppression of wages looks eerily similar to the years that led up to the Great Depression.

Workers have lost their voice, they have lost their power.  We are living in an age where employers no longer care about their employees, treating them as completely disposable. They only care about how much their decisions will effect their stock prices.

What corporate executives and Wall Street bankers do not seem to understand is that when you invest in the people you will reap greater rewards.  Higher wages for those at the bottom lead to more consumer spending, which creates higher demand, which leads higher sales and higher profits, all in all a strong vibrant economy.

Labor built the middle class, and we will never have the strong middle class we had back 50 years ago without labor.

Check out this great info-graphic the walks you through just a few of the hundreds of events build the labor movement.

Special thanks to MODIS for creating this info-graphic.

modis_IG_laborday-UPDATED2015

Rep Annie Kuster Lays Out Her Agenda For Working Americans (VIDEO)

Annie KusterRecently she spoke at the NH AFL-CIO Labor Day breakfast where Congresswoman Annie Kuster laid out her agenda for rebuilding the middle class and helping all working families.

You can see her full 5 minute speech just below, but I will give you a couple of highlights.

  • Raising the federal minimum wage.
  • Protecting workers rights, including attacks against the National Labor Relations Board.
  • Protecting collective bargaining rights.
  • Fought against federal Right to Work for less legislation.
  • Ensuring access to healthcare for all Americans.
  • Increasing funding for schools, and community & technical colleges.
  • Increasing manufacturing right here at home.

We need more people like Annie in Washington who are working to get things done, not just create more gridlock.

Governor Hassas Praises Labor At NH AFL-CIO Labor Day Breakfast

Hassan

Governor Hassan as well as many others took time out of their busy schedules to stop and honor Labor at the New Hampshire AFL-CIO’s annual Labor Day Breakfast.

Labor Day is the one day a year when the entire nation stops to look back and praise the achievements of organized labor throughout history.  Some, like Governor Hassan, respect and honor the hard work that union members do every day.

“You all make up the highly skilled workforce that makes up the backbone of our economy,” Hassan said.

Unions have always fought for better pay and better working conditions, and that leads to better pay and better working conditions for all Granite Staters.

I am proud to stand before you as your Governor and say that, with your support, we have been able to come together, and we have begun to reverse the devastating cuts and misguided policies of the last legislature,” said Hassan.

Governor Hassan has also shown she supports working families by pushing for, and signing, legislation like “Paycheck Fairness,” that work to reduce the income inequality between men and women.  She also worked to freeze in-state tuition at the University of New Hampshire schools.  She proudly announced that next year the Community College System of NH would actually lower tuition by 5%.

There was one piece of legislation that Governor Hassan was eager to see, that never made it to her desk, and that was an increase in the NH Minimum Wage.  The House passed a modest increase over two years, and Governor Hassan was very supportive of that legislation. However, when the bill got to the Senate, it was killed by a party line vote.  The Republican’s in the Senate, killed that bill and every Granite Stater should know it.

We need to ensure that this November we elect leaders, like Governor Hassan, who will stand up for working families, who will fight for a minimum wage increase, who will fight to keep expanding our healthcare options, and fight against the corporate greed that is infecting our legislature.  We need to ensure that we elect leaders who will oppose Right To Work (for less) in all its forms.

Below is the unedited address given by Governor Hassan at the NH AFL-CIO Labor Day Breakfast.

LABOR DAY 2014– An American Holiday We Should Celebrate by Raising the Minimum Wage (Not Wall Street Profits)

laborday

Labor Day isn’t just “the end of summer.”  What many Americans forget: Labor Day honors the sacrifices and accomplishments of our Labor Movement.

Yep, that’s right. Here in America, we have a national holiday honoring the Labor Movement.  Just like Presidents Day, Veterans Day and Christmas Day.  (But I betcha Fox News won’t be covering “the war on Labor Day.”)

Facts: Without labor unions, we would not have child labor laws.  Or a 40-hour work week, lunch and rest breaks, time-and-a-half pay for overtime.  We wouldn’t have worksite safety laws, or the government agencies that enforce them.  Employers wouldn’t provide paid vacation time, paid sick time, maternity leave, healthcare, or retirement benefits.

These gains aren’t just for union members.  Over the past 150 years, labor unions have pushed for better working conditions and better pay for all workers.

It is important to take time to look at all we have accomplished. But we cannot lose sight of the fact that we still have so much work to do.

The minimum wage in 2014 dollars.  Image from "The rise and fall of the minimum wage" (DailyKos Labor)

The minimum wage in 2014 dollars.
Image from “The rise and fall of the minimum wage” (DailyKos Labor)

All across our great nation, people are working 12-14 hours a day and yet they are still living in poverty.   For the past 40 years, workers’ wages have barely kept up with inflation, while corporate profits are reaching an all time high.  Corporate executives are now bringing home obscene amounts of money, while their workers are forced to live off of food stamps and welfare checks.

Where is all that money going?

The Dow Jones Industrial Average is the highest it has ever been which means that Corporate America is doing just fine.  Corporations are bringing in record profits, yet workers are being laid off, and forced to take concessions in their take home pay.   Then why hasn’t that “trickled down” to all of the rest of us?  It is because all of that money is going directly to Wall Street.

Economist William Lazonick looked at the S&P 500 and found that 449 of those companies used 54% of their corporate profits – a total of $2.4 trillion dollars – to buy back their own stock and another 37% to pay dividends to their shareholders.  That means 91% of the company’s profits are going right back to the wealthy Wall Street investors and the CEOs who are predominantly paid in stock options.  By buying back the company’s stock they raise the value of their own stock, which translates into wealth for only a select few.

Despite the fact that many Americans do not know or understand how these corporations are funneling all of their money into Wall Street, Americans have begun to speak out against corporate greed in calling for a higher wages.

Hundreds of low wage fast food workers held impromptu strikes calling for living wage.  They are fighting for $15 dollars an hour, paid sick time, and the right to form a union.

The same thing is happening at Walmart and other retail giants, which have been raking in gobs of money in profits, at the same time they’re encouraging employees to donate food to help feed other associates.

It is sickening, and something has to change.

“President Bush signed the last minimum wage increase on May 25, 2007”

“President Bush signed the last minimum wage increase on May 25, 2007”

This constant pressure by workers is slowly starting to make its way into our state capitols and into Congress.  This year, Vermont legislators pushed a bill that would raise their state minimum wage to $10.50 per hour over the next four years, making VT the highest minimum wage in the country.  Ten other states and Washington D.C. have passed a minimum wage increase.

NPR recently reported that “new data released by the Department of Labor shows that raising the minimum wage in some states does not appear to have had a negative impact on job growth, contrary to what critics said would happen.”

At the local level, SEA-TAC a subset of Seattle pushed their minimum wage to $15.00 an hour, even though Washington’s minimum wage is already $9.32 per hour.   Washington continues to lead the nation in job creation at a rate of .8%, a full .3% above the national average.  Bloomberg News reports that restaurants and bars, the “most vulnerable” to higher wage costs, “expanded by 21%”.

Guess that’s what happens when corporations are forced to pay their employees higher wages, instead of paying their stockholders higher dividends.  The entire state economy grows because people have a little more to spend.

Washington is shining example of what could happen throughout America if Congress would start by lifting the minimum wage.

minwageArt.jgp_But a higher minimum wage is just one of the policies that working families need.  We also need stronger labor laws with updated penalties, and more aggressive enforcement of those laws.  Employers should not be able to steal from workers or maintain unsafe working conditions – figuring they won’t get caught, and even if they do get prosecuted, it’s cheaper to pay the fine than follow the law.

We need an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy 1%.

Our history has shown that when we Americans speak together as one, we can make changes that help everyone.  We have done it before and we will do it again.

This Labor Day, please stop and take a minute to join the millions of Americans who are calling on our elected leaders to remember who elected them (rather than who paid for their campaigns).

Wall Street’s economic recovery started back in 2009.  We need some of that “recovery” to make its way to Main Street.

(Click here to send a message to your elected leader asking them to raise the minimum wage)

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