In honor of May Day, aka International Workers’ Day, I’d like to take a moment to write about a movement and a history of achievements I am proud to be associated with.
May Day actually started in the United States in 1884 as a national campaign to establish the eight-hour day. Until organized labor addressed this situation, workers would be forced to work twelve, fourteen and sixteen hours a day, six days a week. By 1886, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (the precursor to the American Federation of Labor (AFL)) organized a general strike that mobilized a quarter of million workers to achieve the goal after legislative methods failed a number of times.
The American labor movement hasn’t only changed lives, it has altered our perception of what is fair and deserved. Victories the labor movement has led and helped champion include, but are not limited to:
- Ending child labor;
- Establish the legal right of workers to form unions and collectively bargain for wages, benefits and working conditions;
- Paid overtime;
- Workers’ compensation benefits for workers injured on the job;
- Unemployment insurance;
- Securing a minimum a wage, now working for a livable wage;
- Improving workplace safety and reducing on the job fatalities;
- Establishing pensions;
- Win health insurance for workers;
- Securing paid sick leave, vacations, and holidays as standard benefits;
- Win passage of the Civil Rights Act and Title VII
- Win passage of the Occupational Safety and Heath Act
- Win passage of the Family Medical Leave Act
What has the other side accomplished? What does Corporate America stand for? Capitalism is an economic system; it is a means to fulfill need and therefore create profit. Corporate America has the right, some would argue the obligation, to be driven by profit. Corporate America can claim accomplishments such as the computer, the automobile, appliances, Coca-Cola, the cell phone and most of the goods and services we use and make our lives easier and more enjoyable. But it is not a movement. It exists to make money.
What I do not see Corporate America doing is driving the debate on human rights. In fact, there are too many instances of greed superceding, and being in direct competition with, human rights.
So I have to ask – why is Corporate America now suddenly claiming to be the champion of the worker by saying management ordered secret ballot elections (to be represented by a union) are the right of employees? One of the biggest advocates against the Employee Free Choice Act is Rick Berman. He runs an organization called Union Facts. He also has campaigns AGAINST Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), lobbies for the beloved Tobacco industry, and works to discredit the link between fast food and obesity.
Knowing nothing about the Employee Free Choice Act but judging it merely on the groups advocating for and against it – who do you think truly has the best interests of working families at heart?
Happy May Day.