We usually refer to this time of year as the dog days of August, but this month has been anything but slow, and the pace will only escalate over the coming months. With working families and our transportation unions facing some of the toughest battles of our times, we are all gearing up for an autumn that will test our mettle as we ward off devastating austerity measures that could crush our industry, decimate jobs and weaken our economy.
I was happy to hit the road to join my friends at the Machinists union last week at the its 2013 North American Transportation Conference, to talk about our job creation agenda and what’s broken in American politics, just as I did a few days earlier to the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists.
I spoke to IAM leaders and activists about the power of a contract. But I’m not just talking about the obvious one between labor and management. I’m talking about a broader, unwritten contract with the American people — that our nation and its powerful institutions of government, laws, private enterprise, and strong unions give workers the freedom to pursue good wages, safe workplaces, and quality education for their children. Yes, it may sound old hat but we must hold on to the promise and the right to pursue the American dream.
But this sacred contract has been almost destroyed in recent decades — from President Reagan’s war on unions to a bipartisan embrace of perverse trade policies; from a decline in unionized workers to a systematic dismantling of workers’ rights; from a bogus low-tax ideology for the superrich, to the off-shoring and outsourcing of middle-class jobs.
I also told my Machinists friends that we have to demand more from elected officials who are failing to link the decline of the middle class to the hollowing out of collective bargaining rights in this country. As the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington approached I quoted from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who once said: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
I said, “When you hear the politicians in your home town talk about the collapsing middle class, call them out and ask them what they’re doing about empowering more workers to unionize.”
As Washington gets back to its important work in September, we’ll be upping our game to remind the powers that be that, if you are part of this nation, then you are signatory to a great and binding American contract. Working people have upheld their end of that bargain, and now it’s time for corporations, government institutions and the people we elect to do the same.