Rick Bloomingdale is the President of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO.
Why do unions engage in political activism? Because elections have consequences.
We are seeing the consequences of our most recent elections, and we will pay dearly for them. Over the last few decades, we have witnessed and fought back against, an unprecedented attack on workers’ rights. Basic labor standards, like health and safety protections, a 40-hour work week, prevailing wage laws, social security and our most fundamental right to form and join a union, are at risk due to the political and legislative warfare being waged on working people by the wealthiest 1%.
Working people and their unions fought for these rights and protections for over 100 years through strikes, economic activism, organizing, and voting. As union density has declined, corporate greed has been unchained by the politically powerful. Corporate special interests have successfully won major elections for themselves, not just because of their enormous wealth, but because they have used the media and dog-whistling rhetoric to divide working people from one another.
Divide and conquer.
This is not a new tactic, it is as old as society itself. Working people outnumber the powerful few who hold the majority of the economic resources. Over the years, those in power have used fear to tear apart the common brotherhood working people naturally share with one another. They have used fear in many forms; xenophobia, racism, “economic nationalism” and “white supremacy” have worked against the progress of working people of all colors, countries, and creeds. We must recognize that we have more in common with one another than we will ever have with the elite.
In the early days of the steel industry, factory owners and managers used new immigrants, who spoke different languages and practiced different religions, to exploit old prejudices. After the Civil War, newly freed slaves were used as strikebreakers. Rather than integrate the factory floor, they pit one group of workers against another.
Not until workers started organizing in large numbers, were these practices curtailed. Working people fought together for the rights and protections that are at risk today. Just as many thought racism was a relic of the past, many more believed that the labor standards we secured so many years ago would stay in place forever. Why wouldn’t we believe that people are reasonable, and care about their neighbors and communities? We forgot that what we have won at the bargaining table can be taken away at the stroke of a pen.
Why do labor unions engage in politics? Because the protection and advancement of workers’ rights depends upon our activism and our vote.
This election day, as with all others, we need to elect people who are committed to protecting the rights of working people. We need to elect individuals who will stand up for workers across Pennsylvania, not for corporate special interests.
Brothers and Sisters, this is where you come in. We need to protect our right to collective bargaining, our right to unionize and our voice on the job. When you decide to cast your vote, look at their record, not their rhetoric.