LABOR DAY: What America’s Workers Have Built

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by Patrick J Eiding

President, Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO

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I’ve been a union member since 1963. For many years I worked on construction sites as a member of Local 14 of the International Association of the Heat & Frost Insulators.

Though I put away the tools of the trade years ago, I’ll always feel pride when I see the buildings and facilities that I helped to build and maintain.

All working people take a lot of pride in the work that we do, whether that work is teaching students, keeping our streets or our buildings clean and safe, assembling cars, fighting fires, serving customers, building high-rises … anything that working people put our minds and hearts and hands to is something we feel a permanent connection to.

On Labor Day, at the Philadelphia waterfront, thousands of Philadelphia’s working people will gather to celebrate something we’ve all built together: America’s labor union movement. Many unions that will march in Monday’s parade were founded over a century ago.

When something has been around for so long, it’s easy to imagine that it was always there. But America’s unions were built by America’s working people, the same way we built our buildings, our transportation and telecommunications systems, our educational and health-care institutions, our parks and emergency systems: through dedication, skilled work, caring, and determination.

PATRICK EIDING

PATRICK EIDING

America’s unions haven’t always been here. And I mention that fact because I think in this election year we’re seeing a culmination of years and years of right-wing attacks on our unions. Don’t get me wrong – powerful interests have always opposed workers organizing unions. They don’t want working people to build something that belongs just to us, through which we’ve built power and have fought for our basic needs and all our rights as workers.

But starting with Gov. Scott Walker’s declaration of war against unions in Wisconsin over five years ago, these attacks have become more open and accepted by right-wing politicians. Walker lost his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. But now we’ve got a Republican candidate for President, Donald Trump, who gives a lot of lip service to American workers, while running on a platform that unashamedly calls for attacking the very unions that we’ve built, that we run, that we’ve used to build the world’s largest middle class.

The Republican platform calls for an end to the Davis-Bacon Act and a ban on project labor agreements. Doing that would create a “race to the bottom” in government contracting that would end up with our tax dollars being used to pay poverty wages. It supports a national “right to work” law and, maybe worst of all, calls on every state to follow Gov. Walker’s lead in attempting to destroy unions for public employees.

Generations of America’s workers have built our unions. I would not have learned the trade I learned, and had all the amazing opportunities I’ve had in my life, if previous Insulators hadn’t literally paid their dues to build Local 14’s hall, our apprenticeship program, our health and welfare fund.

And unions reach out far beyond just our halls. Unions helped found the United Way, and we continue to play a leading role in raising millions of dollars and providing thousands of volunteers for their charities. In Philadelphia alone, unions organize book drives for thousands of students; donate and install lift-chairs in the homes of veterans in need; donate materials and labor to refurbish our public schools; and lead dozens and dozens of other community initiatives that better the lives of hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians.

America’s labor movement includes workers from every state, every background, virtually every industry you can name – we’re one of the most diverse and democratic institutions in our country. Millions of America’s working people have sacrificed their time, their hard-earned wages, their energy, and, yes, even their lives, to build our unions. And I’ll be darned if I’m going to stay silent while politicians attack organized labor and try to make unions a thing of the past.

On Labor Day, I will proudly march up Columbus Boulevard with thousands of my brothers and sisters in organized labor. We are grateful to those who came before us who built our unions – institutions that we now belong to, and that now belong to us. And every day of the year, as we have for generations, we will stand together, make our unions stronger than ever before, and pass them on to the generations to come.

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