LABOR DAY: Labor Is on the March Again

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This Labor Day, we celebrate the working people of not just Pennsylvania or the United States, but of the world. In an age of an always-connected society, it is easier to see now more than ever how much of the world rests upon workers’ shoulders. Our fears are amplified through social media, but so are our hopes and dreams.

A little over a year ago, many pundits, economists, politicians, and anti-worker groups believed they had finally delivered the death nail into public sector unions in the Janus v. AFSCME decision. While the United States Supreme Court – now more anti-worker than it has been in a generation – may have put a temporary dent in our spirits, it reignited a hunger for collective bargaining in our country.

Since last summer, many of our unions have defied the odds by gaining dues-paying members. My own local, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Local 3, increased our percentage of dues-paying members from 96% in 2018 to 99% in 2019. Our brothers and sisters in other public-sector unions have had similar success. These numbers are a testament to the persistence of our members and organizers.

Earlier this year, it was a labor union – the Association of Flight Attendants – who threatened a strike, forcing the president and Congress to avoid a second government shutdown.

Throughout the course of the last three years, the American people’s eyes have been opened to the naked corporate greed that exists in our country. Our economy is rigged for the wealthy and well-connected. We have seen executives publicly threaten employees who try to organize. In Mississippi, we recently saw hundreds of undocumented workers rounded up by Immigration & Customs Enforcement, many of whom were separated from their families, with zero accountability for the firms that hired them.

Working people in the United States, especially young people, are hungry for collective solutions to common problems. That has led to the greatest interest in unions in decades. We see this playing out week after week in the newsrooms of the next generation of media outlets. In August, nearly 60% of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh librarians, library assistants, clerks, and IT professionals voted to organize as United Steelworkers.

Indeed, at a time when greedy corporate interests are trying to portray unionized labor as a relic of a past that is in need of technological “disruption,” it is the youngest generation of workers coming up – our children – who are more aware than ever of the raw deal this new world is offering, and who are demanding the fundamental rights that the founders of American labor established nearly 140 years ago.

No one in the wealthiest nation the world has ever seen should work until they die. No one in America should go without food, housing, health care, or baseline economic security. Austerity is a cruel, manufactured experiment that pits us against one another: however they seek to divide us – by skin color, nation of origin, gender identification, sexuality – we are workers, and we must be united against the powerful forces of greed that seek to exploit our labor for profit.

Nowhere is the influence of unions more evident right now than in the 2020 Presidential campaign. Candidates are not only adopting our positions on labor and employment issues, they are encouraging their staff to unionize. It’s this influence that we must wield judiciously as we head into an election year.

Between a President who exploited working people’s fears about their economic security and then has time and time again tried to pull the rug out from under them, and a State legislature here in Pennsylvania that is bought and paid for by wealthy anti-worker special interests, we are at a crossroads.

Those of us in the labor movement may not always agree with each other on every issue at every moment. But to protect all the victories we – and those who came before us – have fought so hard to achieve, and to win the future for working families, we must stand together and speak with one voice.

As we march today, shoulder-to-shoulder with our brothers and sisters in labor and our families, let us remember all those who put their comfort and security on the line to give us the rights we enjoy and think about what we are willing to sacrifice so that every worker in America is treated fairly and with respect.

In Solidarity,
Arthur Steinberg is president, AFT Pennsylvania and treasurer, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Local 3.

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