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Berry Craig: Put A Little ‘Ludd’ In Your Life

The Battle Between Progress And Technology That Leaves Workers Without A Job

By BERRY CRAIG, AFT Local 1360

This senior citizen has a hard time figuring out computerized, check-yourself-in airport kiosks.

Like Blanche DuBois, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” So, I’m grateful to nice folks who are still around to check me in the old way.

“Thank you so very much,” I gushed with profound appreciation to the woman who sped my wife and me to our homeward flight from London’s Heathrow airport last summer. (I’m pretty sure she belonged to the UNITE union.)

“You’re welcome,” she smiled and replied. “One day I won’t be here. They want to get rid of us.”

She meant those kiosks would eliminate her job. Millions of people worldwide have already lost jobs to the kind of “progress” the kiosks represent.

As we headed for the gate, I thought of the Luddites, 19th-century English textile mill workers who wrecked machines that were taking their jobs. Factory owners equated mechanization with “progress” — meaning more profit for them. The workers’ supposed leader was Ned Ludd, hence the movement’s name.

Today, “Luddite” is a slam for somebody like me who dares suggest that “technology” is not necessarily synonymous with “progress.”

Don’t get me wrong. I like my PC a lot better than my ancient Royal manual typewriter I used in college going on 50 years ago. Nor am I proposing a Luddite solution to stanch the bleeding of jobs to technology.

I’m with my union brother, David Nickell. He says society needs to redefine its notion of “progress” to ensure that technology serves all of us, rather than enriching just the few.

“We’ve got to start asking ourselves, ‘How can we use technology to bring us the kind of world in which everybody has a job and a place?”” argued David, who teaches sociology and philosophy at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah.

David is the campus representative for AFT Local 1360, this old history teacher’s union office before he retired.

David, like me, is a lifelong resident of rural western Kentucky. We’re fans of Wendell Berry, the famous Bluegrass State writer, environmental activist and social critic.

“Wendell Berry wrote that we are creating a surplus population, with no role for them in society,” David said.

Berry meant farmers and farm workers. The same applies to blue- and white-collar workers who’ve lost–and are still losing–livelihoods to “progress.”

Added David: “I ask my students, ‘How many of you believe in progress? Every one of them holds up a hand. Then I ask, ‘What are we progressing toward?’”

Silence follows, he said.

David said the self-service check-in gizmos–common at U.S. airports, too–symbolize our seemingly insatiable demand for convenience at almost any cost.

“Somebody said the new American credo is ‘Give me convenience or give me death,’” he said.

Anyway, 19th-factory owners and managers on both sides of the Atlantic welcomed machines as profit enhancers.

Absent unions, factory and mill hands toiled long hours at low pay in jobs that threatened, and often claimed, lives and limbs. Most employers saw their employees as mere means to economic ends. They commonly fired workers as soon as they found machines to replace them.

Stateside and in Europe, self-check-out kiosks are also supplanting staffers at supermarkets and other big stores. Automatic answering devices have mostly replaced human telephone operators, too.

After I’m able to run the press-here-for-this-or-that gauntlet and finally reach a real person, I say, “Thank you for being there. Your company needs to hire more people to answer the phones. They need jobs; machines don’t.”

David also noted that many people are uncritically hailing computerized, self-driving cars and trucks as more examples of “progress.”

“With centralized computers with artificial intelligence, the computer can learn from what one truck encounters and instantly reroute all other trucks,” he said.

“The gains in efficiency will be tremendous, but how many truck and delivery drivers will be replaced?  This is one of the last good paying jobs that does not require a college degree, or any specialized training beyond a commercial driver’s license.”

Self-driving taxi cabs are also on the way.

In any event, David said there’s a big difference between finding meaningful work and merely “having a job.”

He explained, “The alienation of the worker has now become so expected that it seems extremist even to point it out.  If the technologies were used properly, they would replace the alienating, tedious, and back breaking jobs, and not the people.”

David recalled his dismay at hearing a Kentucky governor say “’the purpose of higher education is to meet the needs of business and industry.’

“I thought to myself, ‘Business and industry are supposed to succeed, or fail, based on whether they can meet the needs of the people.’”

To feed the greed of wealthy wool and cotton mill owners in the early 1800s, the British parliament, whose members were all rich and powerful men, passed laws to crush the Luddite movement. They also sent redcoat soldiers to shoot or arrest them; several Luddite leaders were hanged, imprisoned or transported to penal colonies in Australia.

In his maiden speech in the House of Lords, George Gordon, Lord Byron, the famous poet, defended the Luddites. While he “condemned” and “deplored” Luddite violence, he warned, “It cannot be denied that they have arisen from circumstances of the most unparalleled distress: the perseverance of these miserable men in their proceedings, tends to prove that nothing but absolute want could have driven a large, and once honest and industrious, body of the people, into the commission of excesses so hazardous to themselves, their families, and the community.”

So, more than a century later, is it “Time to reconsider the Luddites?” asked the headline on a 2014 story in the online U.S. edition of The Guardian, a British newspaper. The author, Robert Skidelsky, based his story on MIT research which showed that over the last 30 years, the share of wages in our national income has been shrinking.

Professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee said that during this “second machine age,” computer technology has pushed deeper “into the service sector, taking over jobs for which the human factor and ‘cognitive functions’ were hitherto deemed indispensable.”

At the airport, most of the old-fashioned check-in desks were unstaffed. So we had to stand in line–“queue” in the local lingo. But there were queues for the kiosks, too.

Not counting queuing time, the friendly staffer at the still open desk had us on our way about as quickly as the kiosk users were checking themselves in and heading for their flights.

Skidelsky, a professor of political economy at Warwick (England) University, pointed to Wal Mart and Amazon as “prime examples of new technology driving down workers’ wages. Because computer programs and humans are close substitutes for such jobs, and given the predictable improvement in computing power, there seems to be no technical obstacle to the redundancy of workers across much of the service economy.”

He acknowledged that “there will still be activities that require human skills, and these skills can be improved. But it is broadly true that the more computers can do, the less humans need to do. The prospect of the ‘abridgment of labour’ should fill us with hope rather than foreboding. But, in our kind of society, there are no mechanisms for converting redundancy into leisure.”

Skidelsky recalled the Luddites. “They claimed that because machines were cheaper than labour, their introduction would depress wages. They argued the case for skill against cheapness. The most thoughtful of them understood that consumption depends on real income, and that depressing real income destroys businesses. Above all, they understood that the solution to the problems created by machines would not be found in laissez-faire nostrums.”

In their headlong embrace of technology as a boon to their bottom lines, business and industry owners would do well to remember that jobless workers can’t afford to buy the products made by the computers, robots and machines that replaced them.

For sure, unemployed airport ground staff won’t have the wherewithal to fly the friendly skies.

 

Labor Day 2017: Remembering All That Labor Has Done For America

New York Labor Parade 1882

“Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”
Department of Labor, History of Labor Day

Today, we celebrate Labor Day: A day to honor all that the labor movement has done to help working people. Over the past 140 years, labor unions have fought and died to improve the working conditions and the lives of all workers.  Without labor unions we would not have things like weekends, vacations, retirement plans, and overtime.

It was also the labor movement that help to bring forth major social and economic changes like the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Civil Rights Act, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 & 2011, Social Security, and the Age Discrimination Act.  These are just of the dozens of laws that were proposed, pushed through, and ultimately passed with major help from labor unions.

Today, as was done in the first Labor Day parade in 1882, I will proudly march down main street flanked by my union brothers and sisters.  A smiling and waving reminder of all that labor has done for working people.

Some say the unions have become obsolete. They say that unions did a lot of good but we now have laws to protect us and that unions are no longer needed.

I say that could not be farther from the truth.

Yes, we have workplace safety protections and laws governed by OSHA, a program that unions helped to create, but every year politicians attack OSHA.  They slashed OSHA’s budget and told us that “industry” can regulate themselves.  The entire reason OSHA was created was because greedy corporate executives could not “regulate themselves” and put profits over the health and safety of their employees.

Even with OSHA, workers are still pushed to bend or outright break these safety regulations.  In 2016, OSHA sent out over 35,000 violations.  Failure to abide by fall protection regulations is once again at the top of the list with over 6,900 citations issued.

It is not just worker safety regulations that are rolling back. Just a few days ago the Republican led Legislature in Missouri pushed through a new law to lower the minimum wage in St Louis from $10 an hour to the state minimum of $7.70 an hour.  That’s right, the local city government raised the minimum wage and the state government passed a new law to make it illegal for cities within the state to raise the minimum wage in their area.  This new law is literally stealing $2.30 an hour from the hard working low-wage workers in St Louis.

Over the past few years, support for labor unions has continued to grow.  Working people are still suffering and struggling to pay their bills as wages have become stagnant.  Jobs are being shipped overseas and income inequality has grown to a point that rivals The Great Depression.  Working people are beginning  to realize the unions have been there fighting back all of this time and now labor unions’ approval rating exceeds 60%.  Support for unions has gained 13 points in the last ten years alone.

Personally, I am glad to see the labor movement doing more to get back to their roots, fighting for social and economic justice.  Labor unions are on the front lines of many of the major issues facing our country right now including:  Systemic racism, income inequality, climate change, access to the ballot box, LBGTQ rights, and women’s reproductive rights.

Every one of these issues affects the lives of working people and that is why labor unions are joining the fight. Should an employer be able to fire a worker for getting pregnant?  What are the health risks to all workers as the Trump administration rolls back environmental protections and allows companies to put more carbon into the air we breathe?  Should a worker be fired because they are gay or transgender?

These may not be what people think of as traditional union issues but are these any different from when labor helped push through an end to segregation?

So today,  as we celebrate Labor Day, let us remember all of the things that labor has done to help make America a better place for everyone.

Hazardous Child Labor Is Still Legal In The U.S. And President Obama Needs To End It

Tobacco, Image by Steve Snodgrass

Tobacco, Image by Steve Snodgrass

Nearly 50 members of Congress ask President Obama to ban child labor in U.S. tobacco before leaving Oval Office 

Washington, DC—Nearly 50 Members of Congress asked President Obama to ban child labor in U.S. tobacco fields in a letter sent to the White House today. U.S. child labor law allows children as young as 12 to work unlimited hours in tobacco fields as long as they are not missing school. “Voluntary policies among tobacco companies have attempted to get children under 16 out of the fields, but it isn’t clear those policies are effective or why they permit 16- and 17-year-old children to do work that is hazardous and makes them ill,” said Sally Greenberg, co-chair of the Child Labor Coalition (CLC) and executive director of the National Consumers League.

“We believe that this work is too dangerous for workers under 18,” said Greenberg. “Children working in tobacco fields suffer regular bouts of nicotine poisoning, otherwise known as Green Tobacco Sickness. They are also subjected to dangerous pesticide residues and use razor-sharp tools. We believe tobacco work should be conducted by adults who are better able to deal with the risks, and kids who have to work or who want to work should be re-directed into safer jobs.”

Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) authored the letter, which asks the President to designate tobacco work for children as “hazardous child labor” and by doing so, render it illegal. Cicilline has been a persistent advocate of protecting U.S. child tobacco workers since a Human Rights Watch report, “Tobacco’s Hidden Children—Hazardous Child Labor in United States Tobacco Farming,” found that nearly three out of four child tobacco workers interviewed suffered symptoms that correlated with nicotine poisoning.

“Laws that allow children to risk nicotine exposure while working in tobacco fields are hopelessly out of date and put children’s health in jeopardy. President Obama should act immediately to prohibit this hazardous work for children,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director for Human Rights Watch (HRW).

In August, the CLC sent a letter signed by 110 groups, representing tens of millions of Americans, to President Obama urging him to ban child labor in U.S. tobacco before he leaves office. The Administration has not responded to the request.

In 2012, under strong pressure from the farm lobby, the Obama Administration withdrew long-overdue occupational protections for child farmworkers that would have banned child labor in tobacco while providing several other life-saving protections.

“We call on President Obama to rectify this decision and protect child tobacco workers from the dangers of nicotine poisoning before another child farmworker becomes ill at work,” said Norma Flores López, chair of the CLC’s Domestic Issues Committee. “Children who work in tobacco fields often wear black plastic garbage bags on their torsos to try to avoid contact with nicotine-laden tobacco leafs. Imagine the heat they experience in broiling sun wearing those bags? How can we subject them to those conditions?”

Both the Washington Post and the New York Times have urged the Obama Administration to issue federal rules to ban child labor in U.S. tobacco.  

On May 5, the Federal Drug Administration announced new regulations prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes to children. “We’ve agreed for many years that nicotine does not belong in the hands of children,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell. 

“Despite this concern, the Obama Administration has not yet taken appropriate steps to protect child tobacco workers from nicotine poisoning in the fields,” said HRW’s Becker.

In September, Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi, a global leader of the movement to end child labor and child slavery tweeted a plea for the President “as a fellow Nobel Prize laureate” to ban child labor in U.S. tobacco.

“The United State has adopted the global sustainable development goal of ending child labor in the next nine years, but refuses to take the important first step of ending hazardous child labor in our tobacco fields,” said Reid Maki, director of child labor advocacy for the National Consumers League and coordinator of the CLC. “How sincerely are we embracing this vital goal if we won’t ban hazardous work that most Americans would agree is too dangerous for children—work that has been already banned in India and Brazil?” 


About the Child Labor Coalition

The Child Labor Coalition, which has 38 member organizations, represents consumers, labor unions, educators, human rights and labor rights groups, child advocacy groups, and religious and women’s groups. It was established in 1989, and is co-chaired by the National Consumers League and the American Federation of Teachers. Its mission is to protect working youth and to promote legislation, programs, and initiatives to end child labor exploitation in the United States and abroad. The CLC’s website and membership list can be found at www.stopchildlabor.org.

Sanders Asks Clinton To Support “Scrap The Cap” On Social Security

Sanders Also Releases a New Television Ad in Iowa, New Hampshire

 Sen. Bernie Sanders on Wednesday urged Hillary Clinton to back a plan endorsed by leading Democrats and seniors’ advocates to strengthen Social Security.

Sanders has introduced legislation to make the wealthiest Americans who make more than $250,000 a year pay the same share of their income into the retirement system as everyone else. Current law now caps the amount of income subject to payroll taxes at $118,500.

Sanders’ plan is patterned after a proposal to scrap the cap first brought forward by President Barack Obama in 2008. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada in the last session of Congress was a cosponsor of Sanders’ legislation to scrap the cap on the payroll tax.

“I hope Hillary Clinton joins us because I believe that we’ve got to stand with seniors,” Sanders said. “We need not only to extend social security benefits, we need to expand them,” he added.

Social Security is the subject of a new television ad being released on Wednesday to stations in Iowa and New Hampshire, where polls show Sanders gaining ground or leading Clinton. “I hope we can keep this campaign focused on the important issues facing our country including the economic security of seniors and disabled veterans.”

Pressed repeatedly, Clinton has stopped short of endorsing the proposal. She also has left open the possibility that she would support raising the retirement age at which seniors become eligible for Social Security. “I would consider it,” she told a town meeting in New Hampshire last Oct. 28.

Under Sanders’ plan, a senior making less than $16,000 a year would see income go up by more than $1,300. On average, Social Security benefits would go up by an average of $65 a month.

The measure also would increase cost-of-living adjustments. This year, for only the third time in 40 years, seniors on Social Security are not receiving a cost-of-living increase. Sanders’ legislation would increase COLAs by accurately measuring the spending patterns of seniors. Under current law, the consumer price index used to calculate annual benefit adjustments does not accurately reflect how inflation in health care costs and prescription drug prices impact seniors.

The proposal to lift the cap would raise taxes only on the wealthiest 1.5 percent of Americans.

New Article Highlights Work Of Progressive Labor Activist Matt Murray

New article focuses on the work of Matt Murray, a local labor blogger, and his work pushing back against the right wing attacks on labor and progress.

Murray Head ShotFor five years now Matt Murray has been dedicated to fighting back against the right wing attacks on working families.  In an attempt to push back against the main-stream media’s mis-information about labor unions, Murray created the NH Labor News (NHLaborNews.com).

Today, Communique New England released an in depth article on the work that Murray has been doing over the past five years.

“No self-respecting reader of Communique New England who cares about workers and the labor movement can afford to ignore or overlook NH Labor News, the state’s only source for daily, hourly, even real time updates pertaining to any and all labor-related activity in the state.”

“Murray’s tendency to look on the bright side is both infectious and consistent – he also holds a great deal of optimism with regard to labor’s future, even as the movement assumes a more nontraditional and at times asymmetrical structure.”

The looks at the humble beginnings of the NH Labor News and a look into the future as the NH Labor News continues to grow and expand. 

“The NH Labor News is truly a labor of love,” said Matt Murray, creator and managing editor of the NH Labor News. “I have dedicated my life to supporting working families and pushing for progress in New Hampshire and the entire United States. Attacking the hard-working men and women of this country has become a political talking point for some politicians, even going as far as to call us ‘terrorists’. We need to band together to fight back against the attacks on working families.”

“I would like to thank Jay Monaco for his great work on this article and highlighting the work of all of those involved in the NH Labor News, and look forward to bringing you more as the First In The Nation primary ramps up,” added Murray.

To read the entire article from Jay Monaco go to: http://communiquenewengland.com/2015/07/22/the-soul-of-the-new-hampshire-labor-movement/

Building a Better Budget Examines State Budget Priorities, State Tax System; Strategies to Strengthen NH’s Middle Class

CONCORD, NH – The New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute (NHFPI) today convened Building a Better Budget: Meeting Today’s Needs, Preparing for Tomorrow to provide a forum for dialogue around how to build a budget that allows the Granite State to create, maintain, and restore the public structures that are vital to a vibrant economy.

“New Hampshire’s budget is a statement of priorities, a reflection of the values that we hold as a state, as a society, as a people,” said NHFPI Executive Director Jeff McLynch. “It is time to begin a thoughtful dialogue around how the state sets priorities and how we can ensure that New Hampshire is a place where everyone has access to opportunities to thrive and prosper.”

The event opened with a panel discussion which examined several key elements of New Hampshire’s state budget, with an emphasis on current and long-term needs pertaining to transportation, higher education, mental health, and income support programs. Panelists included Christopher Clement, former commissioner, New Hampshire Department of Transportation; Amy Messer, legal director, Disability Rights Center; Kristyn Van Ostern, associate vice chancellor and chief financial officer, Community College System of New Hampshire; and Ife Floyd, policy analyst, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

A second panel of national tax policy experts examined New Hampshire’s revenue system and offered insights into how other states approach taxation and practices that would make the Granite State’s revenue system more sound and more fair. Panelists included Norton Francis, senior research associate, Urban Institute; Carl Davis, senior policy analyst, Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy; and Dan Bucks, former director for the Montana Department of Revenue.

The nearly 140 participants, which included New Hampshire legislators, nonprofit and community leaders, and concerned citizens, were provided with an opportunity to engage in dialogue around how New Hampshire could build a budget that better meets the needs of low- and moderate-income families and individuals struggling to get by.

The event concluded with a keynote address by Anna Chu, director of the Middle-Out Economics project at the Center for American Progress, who illustrated how a strong and stable middle class is the key driver of economic growth and outlined strategies to help New Hampshire support its middle-class and increase economic opportunities for all Granite Staters.

NHFPI’s second annual policy conference, Building a Better Budget was made possible with the support of lead event sponsor the National Education Association-NH (NEA-NH) and the following partner organizations: Child and Family Services, American Federation of Teachers-NH (AFT-NH), New Futures, Full Circle Consulting, Louis Karno and Company, and Kieschnick Consulting Services.

The New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to exploring, developing, and promoting public policies that foster economic opportunity and prosperity for all New Hampshire residents, with an emphasis on low- and moderate-income families and individuals. Learn more at www.nhfpi.org.

 

Building A New Hampshire That Works For All Working Families

Today I want to talk to you about how we build an America and a New Hampshire that works for all of us, not just the ultra wealthy one-percent (1%).

Today, we see that New Hampshire’s working families and middle class are getting crushed.  Workers wages continue to go down as their household costs continue to rise. Workers are loosing their voice in the workplace as the corporations are forcing our unions out.

But this is no accident. After they break our unions, they slash our wages and loot our pensions, leaving us without a job and without a future.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  Together we can create a New Hampshire that works for all of us. That’s why we must work together to reform our labor laws.  To make it easier for workers to come together and form unions, to push back against this corporate anti-worker agenda.  By sticking together and speaking with one voice, we will begin to make a difference in our communities.

You know, working people and the middle class are the engines of our economy.  When we have good jobs, we can educate our children, we can shop in our neighborhoods, we can afford healthcare and retire with dignity and security. We drive our economy forward.

We’ll bolster working families and build a strong middle class, with the decisions we make together. If we are to achieve a strong and vibrant middle class again, we need to: help workers find their voice in the workplace, to strengthen our labor laws to make it easier for worker to organize, and stronger disciplinary actions against companies who violate our laws by intimidating or threatening workers who choose to speak out.

It is up to us to hold our elected officials accountable for standing up for working people and the middle class, not just the CEO’s and hedge fund managers on Wall Street.  Together we can assure that all of us will be able to climb that ladder and find our own version of the American Dream.

This is what America is about. This is what New Hampshire is about. We can do this together. We can build an America, a New Hampshire, that works for all of us.

#             #              #

Matt Murray speaking at the NH Progressive Summit.  (Image by Jennifer Kenny)

Matt Murray speaking at the NH Progressive Summit. (Image by Jennifer Kenny)

The above was a speech I wrote during a workshop at the NH Progressive Summit.  The panel was led by Richard Kirsch who talked about using the Progressive Economic Narrative to frame our speeches.  The framing in our speeches and our blog posts is crucial to how people will respond.  We can be inspiring, heartfelt, and patriot and still push a strong progressive message.

I would like to thank the NH Citizen’s Alliance and Granite State Progress for organizing this years NH Progressive Summit, and bringing in such great speakers as Richard Kirsch.

 

Can You Help Matt Murray Of The NH Labor News Win A Scholarship To Netroots Nation 2013?

Matt Murray and Richard Trumka

Matt Murray (NH Labor News) and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka
Taken at Netroots Nation 2012

For over two years now I have been working to build the NH Labor News.  What started as a project with the NH AFL-CIO, the NH Labor News blog grew into a full social media presence.  The NH Labor News now has over 1000 Facebook fans and over 2100 followers on Twitter.

My main goal in creating the NH Labor News was to create a single stream of labor related information for union members (and union supporters), a place to get information about what is going in here in the Granite State and beyond.

Throughout the last two years we have covered everything from the funding problems with the USPS to local Public Employee Labor Relations Board hearings and everything in between. Over the last year I helped push for support of Governor Maggie Hassan, Rep Carol Shea-Porter, Rep Annie Kuster, President Obama and dozens of local NH candidates.

Now I am asking for you to help me.  I need your votes.

I along with over 3000 people, I  will be attending the annual Netroots Nation event in California this June.  For those who do not know about Netroots Nation, it is an annual event where bloggers and social media experts come to together to share their knowledge with everyone else.  This builds a large, strong social media presence when it comes to progressive issues.  The connections are invaluable, and the knowledge is unmatched.

Netroots Nation does have some costs associated with it. This is how you can help me.  Democracy for America is offering a scholarship to cover registration and lodging at NN13.  This would only mean that I would need to come up with transportation to California (if you want to sponsor my airfare contact me directly).

Please take one minute to Vote for MATT on the DFA website. http://nn13.democracyforamerica.com/applicants/64?complete=true

EVERY VOTE COUNTS

Then share this post on your Facebook walls and on your Twitter accounts.  The more votes I get the better my chances of winning a scholarship.  With you help I can attend this amazing event.

DSCF0045

Matt Murray attending a rally for President Obama in Manchester NH

 

Dr King Continues To Inspire Us To Reach For The American Dream With Equality For All

What can I say about one of the greatest teachers of our time?  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was not only our country’s greatest civil rights activist, he taught us in the labor movement that we are all connected, that workers’ rights are human rights.

No matter our race, or religion – all the millions of working families in our country are looking for the same thing.  It used to be called “The American Dream”.  We all want to have enough money to live in a decent home, enough that we don’t have to worry about paying for food or paying the heat bill.  We want to raise our children in safe neighborhoods with decent schools.  We want to have time outside of work, to spend with our children and get involved in our communities.  We want to live a full life and then be able to retire with dignity.

MLK Marching But in recent decades, the workers of this country have not been able to rise up and reach for that Dream.  Instead, we have been pushed down: through stagnant wages, and increased productivity. Through outsourcing and layoffs.  Under-employment and unemployment.  Through the mantra that “you’re lucky to even have a job.”  Steelworker, waitress, adjunct professor, custodian: we all share that same American Dream.  We are more alike than different.  This is the one thing that unions and union members have understood for hundreds of years.

Back in the 1960s, when unions represented more than 50% of the workforce, things were much different.  Wages were not excessive, but they were fair.  Families could have one parent at home and still afford that nice new GM car, and the house with the white picket fence.

But since then, unions have been under constant attack.  They push legislation like Right To Work (for less).  They pit private-sector worker against public-sector employee.  They tell us they can’t “afford” pay raises, they can’t “afford” to maintain our benefits, even when their profits are breaking records.  They hack away at our collective bargaining rights until they can make those rights meaningless.

Dr King was way ahead of his time when he said:

“In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights. Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone…Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights. We do not intend to let them do this to us. We demand this fraud be stopped. Our weapon is our vote.” —Martin Luther King, speaking about right-to-work laws in 1961

Now, more than fifty years later, we are still fighting against Right To Work laws. Community activists are still working with the labor movement to protect collective bargaining rights.

Martin luther king quote

And we in the labor community are still fighting for equal rights for all.  Our unions are standing up for the rights of all workers: gay, lesbian, straight, black, white, or brown.  None of those things should ever hold us back.  None of those things should ever keep any one of us from reaching our own version of the American Dream.

It is an eternal truth: we are all connected.  “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me (Matthew 25:40).”

We must stand together, if we are to stand at all.

 

(This post was co-written by Matt Murray and Liz Iacobucci)

Today Could Be Your Last Chance: Take To Minutes To Call and Help Fix The Senate

Something is broken in Congress, and it’s up to us to fix it.

The filibuster used to be an important tool that gave the minority a real voice in the Senate. Not anymore.

For too long now, this tactic has been misused and abused. Congress has stopped legislating effectively, with Senators using ridiculous dodge tactics to block real progress.

We have a chance to restore the filibuster to its original purpose, but we need your help to do it. Pick up the phone right now and urge your Senator to support Senate Rules Reform. Call 1-866-937-5062 or text FIXTHESENATE to 69866.

Before the start of the last legislative session, Republicans made a “gentlemen’s agreement” – they promised to cut down on the number of times that they blocked debate on bills.

But that promise was quickly broken, and over the past two years more motions were made to prevent bills from being openly debated than during any other Congressional session in history.

And so bills like the DREAM Act, the Employee Free Choice Act, and the Bring Jobs Home Act were all railroaded – blocked from both debate and vote.

Right now, all it takes is a handful of Senators to stop the rest from making progress. With reform, the filibuster can once again be a tool of empowerment, rather than just a cheap scare tactic. But we’ve got stand up and fight for that reform.

Before the next Congress is gaveled into session, get on phone and call your Senators to say you support Senate Rules Reform, and that they should, too:

It’s easy and only takes a few minutes. Call 1-866-937-5062 or text FIXTHESENATE to 69866.  When your call is answered, say “I am calling to ask the Senator to support Senate rules reform, including returning to a talking filibuster.”

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