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UAW: Labor Day 2008-It's go time


By Ron Gettelfinger

It may come as something of a surprise to anyone who's paid even the slightest attention to the economic crisis brewing in our country, but workers have a lot to celebrate this Labor Day.

"What," you might ask, "is there to celebrate? Wages have fallen, tens of thousands have lost their homes and health care, food and fuel costs are sky high and prospects for finding a good job are melting faster than the polar ice."

Barack Obama meets with UAW
Barack Obama meets with UAW members after his speech in June at Kettering University in Flint, Mich.

In a word: Change.

Labor Day marks the start of the fall campaign season, and workers are pumped and ready to turn back a near-decade of decline.

As it happens, this year the workers' holiday coincides with the opening of the Republican National Convention. And while the GOP tries to muster enthusiasm for a presidential candidate who vows to continue the same policies that have made such a mess of things, union members will celebrate in parades and rallies, confident we will chart a new course in November and take back the American Dream for all Americans.

For the past eight years our "public" policies have been skewed to benefit corporate America at the expense of workers. The Bush administration and congressional Republicans have pushed for more free-trade agreements that have put millions of people out of work. Their answer to the health care crisis is to move people into the private insurance market through high-deductible "health savings accounts" and to tax workers who have employer-provided coverage.

Barack Obama meets with Lilly
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Barack Obama and opposed by Sen. John McCain, would give workers more time to sue over pay discrimination. The bill was named for Ledbetter, shown here right, who only learned she was paid less than her male co-workers a few weeks before retiring.
And the party of Lincoln blocked a much-needed amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The bill is named for Lilly Ledbetter, who sued her former employer when she discovered shortly before retiring that for years she had been paid less than her male counterparts. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that her suit was not timely, allowing her employer to benefit from decades of concealing their discriminatory behavior. Sen. Barack Obama is a co-sponsor of legislation to reverse this injustice to tens of millions of American women; Sen. John McCain stands opposed.

McCain and his Republican colleagues also oppose the Employee Free Choice Act, which would protect workers' fundamental right to form and join unions and bargain over wages, benefits and working conditions.

Workers who have had the freedom to form unions and bargain collectively created an upwardly mobile society and made our nation the envy of the rest of the world. This is the model that fueled robust economic growth throughout much of the last century. And it's the only way our nation and our way of life will survive and flourish in the new millennium.

But in recent years workers and our unions have had to play defense to an all-out assault by organizations like the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the fact-free Center for Union Facts. These corporate-backed groups pretend to be looking out for the best interests of workers when their real aim is to prevent people from having the power to improve their workplaces and their lives.

This year working families are fighting back. We're mobilizing to elect Barack Obama and congressional candidates who will put people ahead of powerful corporations.

Casino workers deserve a union.
The Employee Free Choice Act, supported by Barack Obama and opposed by John McCain, would penalize employers, like Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, that refuse to bargain with workers who have chosen to form a union.
Obama has been a fighter for ordinary Americans since his days as a community organizer on Chicago's South Side. He believes workers should have the ability to improve their lives through collective bargaining, and he understands that good-paying jobs with secure democratic rights in the workplace are essential to rebuilding our broken economy.

Obama has steadfastly refused to cross picket lines. He has offered strong support to UAW members and to members of other unions who are organizing and bargaining for justice in the workplace, and he is a co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act.

Like us, Obama believes health care should be a right and not a privilege for those who can afford it. His health care plan would offer those without insurance and small businesses an affordable health care plan, with coverage similar to that members of Congress now enjoy.

And Obama is committed to creating good jobs here in the United States by renegotiating bad trade deals like NAFTA and ending tax breaks for companies that send jobs overseas.

On the other end of the spectrum, McCain wants to give $175 billion a year in tax cuts to corporations. He's promised to expand the trade deals that have cost our nation more than 3 million manufacturing jobs since President Bush took office. He wants to tax health care benefits of working families at a time many of us are having trouble making ends meet.

McCain's hard-line partisan voting record (he voted with Bush 95 percent of the time last year) reflects an alarming lack of interest in making our society work for working people. In fact, he promises more of the same miserably failed policies that have left so many out of work, out of their homes and out of their health care.

This November working families will deliver the news to McCain: We're out of patience.

But our job won't end in November. We know the forces of privilege and power aren't going to suddenly throw in the towel and declare game over once we've elected Obama and a worker-friendly Congress. Corporations and their front groups will continue to try to prevent workers from joining unions, to seek lucrative tax breaks that bleed the public treasury and to cut corners on environment, consumer and public health protections.

You can be sure we will stay in the game, too. We will hold elected leaders accountable by a simple standard: What have you done to help working families?

Union members stand up for each other not just on Election Day, but every day, in our workplaces and in our communities. We will work to protect and preserve the American Dream for all people. That is labor's legacy; that is labor's mission. This is the time, and we're ready to go.

Happy Labor Day!