Fred’s Focus: The Labor Movement’s Fight for Justice Turns to Fight for Survival

It’s Labor Day weekend. The end of the summer for some. The start of the political season for others. For too few of us, it is a reminder of the sacrifices and initiatives of workers – and the unions that represent them – that have made life better for all Americans.

American workers were in the fights for the five day week, eight hour day, no child labor, sick leave, Medicare, and Social Security.

But today the average citizen doesn’t remember these efforts for justice. Why?

For over forty years, workers and unions have been defamed by mega corporations and their right wing political allies. Every union demand for worker justice has been perverted into something bad; unions have been subject to a ceaseless propaganda barrage fueled by billions in corporate cash.

Language has lost its meaning in this struggle. Right-to-work laws are defended by politicians and millions think they know what these laws mean. However, they are wrong – and they message on a platform that misinforms America. “Right-to-work” and “employee freedom” (another key term usually associated with these laws) sound like the patriotic ideals we should embrace, but in fact are little more than coverups for the dismantling of our labor unions. No one forces membership in a labor shop, but because all workers benefit from the existence of a union fighting for workers rights, everyone should pay their fair share. Opponents of labor want to dismantle unions but still prosper from their protection and advocation… how does that make sense?

Corporations and trade groups have outspent unions by about 60 to 1 in political money for the last 20 years – and with the Citizens United vs FEC decision it is only getting worse. Yet, politicians drum the notion that unions pour billions into political campaigns and make the system corrupt. Again, Americans believe this message while the reality is starkly different.

Another line of attack has been the subtle notion that it is somehow un-American for workers to band together. Banding together stinks of socialism. Yet, corporations lobby and spend their money in unison in such groups as the Business Roundtable or the Chamber of Commerce. Take for example the people trying to disband unions – The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation group is a 2.6 million “member” group itself.

It’s long past time when the interests of American workers can be ignored by American political leaders. That 60 to 1 political money ratio has to give way to the genuine needs of the American people if we intend to stop the movement toward an economic andpolitical oligarchyy. Ordinary citizens do not have the same voice in economic or political policies as wealthy special interests – in a world where labor is destroyed, this voice is even weaker.

There are a few basic steps the next president and Congress can take to show they value labor workers. On a national level, we must adopt a $15 an hour minimum wage and we must legislate the carried interest tax loophole and other preferential tax loopholes out of existence.

How can these steps happen with a likely Republican controlled House of Representatives? Let’s assume Secretary Clinton is elected President. This should not be hard to assume as she is polling ahead in every poll – and with a likely landslide in the electoral college. She should use this landslide as the needed momentum to go for big things. We don’t need more tinkering around the edges. And the Republican Party should be open to the movement in favor of the American worker. Trump’s candidacy has all but destroyed the GOP’s credentials and image. Can it maintain itself as a legitimate national party if it stands only for obstruction in the next four years?

Chances are that Speaker Paul Ryan knows this and he and others in his party may be forced to do a few constructive things – if only for their own political futures. President Clinton and Congress must consider fundamental moves.

At the congressional level, one fundamental move could be that worker pay is subsidized in specific start up industries. Such a program could be targeted to low income or depressed areas. How could this happen? The best way would be through the tax structure which now and for the last 25 years has subsidized exorbitant executive pay through so called “performance” standards  that amount yearly to a loss in the billions of corporate taxes. Of course, subsidized pay is not socialism when you do it for corporate executives making $10 million a year, is it?

For her part, a potential future President Clinton could use executive orders to push corporations that want government contracts to take steps to protect workers interests. Is it too much to say that representatives of labor be in corporate boards that are seeking lucrative government contracts? Or that workers get pay and benefits based in productivity just as the executives?

It is not too early to start putting workers interests on the same level as corporate interests.


Patriotic Millionaire Fred Rotondaro has had a varied career that includes journalism, teaching, anti-poverty and civil rights work, and national association management. He was a senior fellow from 2003 to 2015 at the Center for American Progress where he concentrated on poverty and inequality. He has written extensively for academic and popular publications. He holds a PhD in American Studies from New York University, an honorary doctorate from Wheeling College, and is currently Chair of the Board of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.

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