Amid struggles, the labor movement faces an additional burden: a union-busting president
Fifty-five years ago, in a speech to the convention of the Illinois AFL-CIO, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. laid out with characteristic moral clarity the essential role of unions in American life.
“The labor movement,” he explained, “was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress … [When] the wave of union organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society. Civilization began to grow in the economic life of man, and a decent life with a sense of security and dignity became a reality rather than a distant dream.”
The words of Rev. King are as true today as they were back then — and more urgent now than ever. After generations of sweat and sacrifice, fighting hard to earn the wages and benefits that built and sustained the American middle class, unions are under siege. As workers struggle against a deadly pandemic, a painful recession and deep racial disparities, the labor movement also faces an additional burden: a union-busting president.
When he isn’t calling to boycott Goodyear and its thousands of union workers for petty personal reasons, Donald Trump is actively fighting against working people. That’s because, like so many CEOs and Wall Street robber-barons, he knows that if he can diminish union power, he can run the table on every American worker.
This Labor Day, let’s end the war on labor’s house and put power back in workers’ hands. Strengthening unions and empowering workers is essential to our recovery from the devastating challenges Mr. Trump has allowed to fester. We need to finally get serious about defeating the pandemic, digging out from the worst jobs crisis in nearly a century, and healing the long-standing wound of racial injustice. And a big part of meeting those challenges will come from seizing this opportunity to build an economy that serves the dignity of the hardworking people who make it run.
The key to that is to create good-quality jobs with a fair choice to join a union — a choice that nearly 60 million Americans are eager to make if given a chance, according to the latest research. Those jobs are at the heart of the “Build Back Better” plan that will guide our recovery in a Biden-Harris administration.
The plan starts with a transformational $2 trillion investment to rebuild America’s infrastructure, lead the world in clean energy and position our auto industry for a long, bright future. That investment will revitalize schools, roads and bridges; modernize our communities; and make our airports, seaports and inland waterways the finest in the world. And by finally investing in another form of infrastructure — America’s long-undervalued bedrock of caregivers and educators — millions of people will be freed up to pursue the dignity and security that comes from landing a good job.
Most important, the entirety of those investments will support a “Made in America” future driven by union workers. The materials to rebuild America will be made here at home. The supply chains will run through American towns. The jobs will be well-paying, middle-class union jobs.
Increasing workers’ rights to unionize and collectively bargain will be an essential component of the Biden-Harris administration’s economic recovery plan. That includes enacting the PRO Act, which would dramatically enhance the power of workers to organize without fear of retaliation.
Additionally, bargaining rights for public service and federal workers will be ensured, the practice of misclassifying workers as independent contractors will be ended and corporate executives will be held personally liable if they interfere with workers’ efforts to organize. The National Labor Relations Board will be restored to its original purpose, clearly stated in the 1935 law that created it — not to hamstring, or even merely tolerate unions, but to actively encourage collective bargaining.
There is no question that working people have the capacity to solve the crises we’re facing today — but the only way we’ll emerge from those crises with an economy that works for everyone is by summoning a new wave of worker power.
We owe it not only to those who have put in a lifetime of work, but to the next generation of workers who have only known an America of rising inequality and shrinking opportunity. All of us deserve to enjoy America’s promise in full — and our nation’s leaders have a responsibility to deliver it.
The road to get there won’t be easy. But we know the character of union members — the people who built this country, who keep us going through the hard times, and who have never once let our nation down. We can and must build a future that reflects working people’s courage and ambition, and offers not only good jobs — but the dignity, equity, shared prosperity and common purpose due to every single person who lives and works here.
Former Vice President Joe Biden is the Democratic candidate for president. Richard Trumka is the president of the AFL-CIO.