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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 9/6/15

How We Can Honor the Men and Women Who Fought for Workers' Rights This Labor Day

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Reprinted from Truthdig

Sen. Bernie Sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders
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Labor Day is a time for honoring the working people of this country. It is a time to celebrate the accomplishments of the activists and organizers who fought for the 40-hour work week, occupational safety protection, and other workplace rights. These working people resisted the oligarchs of their day, fought for a more responsive democracy, and built the middle class.

Today we can -- and we must -- follow their example. There is a war underway against middle-class families. Corporate greed is destroying the United States of America. It's time to fight for the middle class once again, so that every working person in the United States of America has a chance at a decent life.

We can do this. Against overwhelming odds, the men and women of the labor movement changed society for the better. If you've ever enjoyed a paid vacation, a sick day, or time off on the weekend, they are the people to thank. And if you don't have those benefits on your job today, they are the people who can help you get them.

The truth is, right now things aren't going very well for the working men and women of this country. As the Economic Policy Institute points out, the recovery from the financial crisis of 2008 is reaching people unevenly. African-American unemployment is more than double that of whites, and the Hispanic jobless rate is also much higher than the white rate. Unemployment in some states is almost three times higher than it is in others. And many people are working part time when they'd rather be working full time.

Wages for working people have stagnated for decades. In fact, according to a new study by the National Employment Law Project, real median hourly wages declined by 4 percent from 2009 to 2014, with low wage workers experiencing the biggest wage losses.

It's not that the money isn't there. Productivity has risen in this country, but working people are not sharing in the wealth. For three decades after the end of World War II, productivity and wages grew together. Business profits rose, and the workers who made those profits possible did well along with their bosses. That's not happening today. Productivity has continued to soar, but workers have been cut out of the profits.

We can fix these problems. We can create millions of new jobs by rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. We can increase family income by raising the minimum wage and defending workers' rights to organize on the job. And we can pass legislation giving American workers the same kinds of benefits available to citizens of other developed nations: guaranteed sick leave, caregiver leave, and family leave; mandatory overtime pay; guaranteed paid vacation; and access to healthcare as a human right.

We can do all of these things, but we've got our work cut out for us. The Citizens United decision was disastrous for our democracy, and big money continues to corrupt the political process. Billionaires are lining up to spend money buying our government. The Koch Brothers, the second wealthiest family in America, are prepared to spend nearly one billion dollars in the current election cycle -- more than the Republican or Democratic parties themselves are likely to spend.

These billionaires don't just want to cut Social Security -- they want to eliminate it. They don't just want to cut Medicare -- they want to eliminate it. They don't just want to cut the Veterans Administration, and the Postal Service, and a whole host of other programs Americans rely on. They want to eliminate them.

They want it all. They want to leave other Americans with the "freedom" to live in poverty. They want Americans to work for $3 or $4 an hour -- without healthcare, without childcare, without a pension, without the ability to send their kids to college, and without any hope that their children will have a higher standard of living than they do.

Here's the good news: we faced challenges like these before in our history, and we won. We won when working people across this country came together -- in the workplace, in peaceful demonstrations, and at the ballot box -- and said "No more." That victory is part of what we celebrate on Labor Day.

Now, when the oligarchs are trying to take it all, we must win that victory all over again. It can't be done by a president alone. We need a political revolution, a peaceful revolution where millions of people -- workers, veterans, the elderly, the disabled, people of color -- stand together to tell the billionaire class: Enough is enough. Your greed is destroying this country. You cannot continue to get tax breaks while children in this country are going hungry.

So, let's enjoy the holiday weekend. But this Labor Day let's also honor the men and women who have fought for the rights of working people in this country ever since it was founded -- by pledging to carry on with the work they've started.
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Bernie Sanders is the independent U.S. Senator from Vermont. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. He is a member of the Senate's Budget, Veterans, Environment, Energy, and H.E.L.P. (Health, Education, (more...)

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