September 5, 2011
By Vincent Alvarez, President, NYC Central Labor Council
The nation will observe Labor Day this coming weekend, allowing workers across the country to enjoy a well-deserved rest on this federal holiday in which we recognize their contributions to our nation.
Of course, a far better Labor Day would be if all those who are willing and able to work are also enjoying the long weekend. Sadly, there is no rest for the weary. Unemployment and layoffs continue to plague our middle class, and this has become a crisis of dignity, as much as it is one of economics.
Generations of Americans have grown up with the fundamental principle that a good job, paycheck and benefits are the way to make a better, more secure life for yourself, family and community. Many of our parents were able to raise us in safe neighborhoods because they received fair compensation as a result of union collective bargaining agreements.
We grew up in communities made more stable by the solid incomes and job security of neighbors with union jobs. We had opportunity and access to the middle class, thanks to the union card. Everyone should have the right and opportunity to a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work. Our country, and economy, depend on it. If cities like New York are the economic engine of our nation, then the working people are the heart of it. If we cannot make ends meet, then others cannot either, and the trend of income inequality will continue to grow.
We all have to work collectively at addressing issues facing our society. This has been organized labor’s mantra for decades. Over the last couple of weeks, young people across America have been packing up and heading to colleges and higher learning campuses to begin their studies, training and professional development.
It is difficult to accept that as they embark on their own career path, there is a strong likelihood that they will not have the same opportunities to acquire the economic security of so many previous generations. We cannot bring our youth into a jobless economy with insurmountable debt and limited opportunities.
They deserve better, and so do we. We must have economic stability for all those who also yearn to share in the American Dream. We must pass the torch to our new generations as it was given to us, with a strong glow and optimism. Wrongly, the focus has not been enough on creating jobs, rather protecting them from those determined to minimize the economic power of working people.
This year, our country has seen an increase on basic attacks of collective bargaining rights. Pensions are under attack and the job axe is swinging, and middle class workers are being scapegoated. Labor is always looking for a fair approach to address these unwarranted demands. We’ll do our share, but in doing so, we have to ask the question “is everyone also doing their part?” There may be a handful of millionaires next door, but in a much great context, there are millions of middle and low-income families next door looking for work and job fairness.
Clearly, workers are not sharing the prosperity, yet continue to be handed a disproportionate share of the sacrifice of our current economic problems. Since the rise of labor unions in the 19th Century, workers across the country have, and will continue to, stand up for our jobs and wage equality. We will do so with the same conviction and determination our fore brothers and sisters did back in 1882 during the first Labor Day holiday. Fighting to keep it fair, and keep it right.
The word unity best defines our movement, and the parade we will proudly march in September 10th in New York City to commemorate Labor Day. Working people are united. Standing and marching together in solidarity has always been our best line of defense against those who challenge our basic rights, and paychecks. We are well prepared to defend this challenge, and the next one. In the true spirit of Labor Day, we will use our strength and solidarity to affirm our commitment to all working people.