What labor has won, what must be protected

By Sarah Bigney, Special to the BDN
Posted Sept. 04, 2011, at 3:27 p.m.

It wasn’t until I was riding in a pickup truck up a mountain in Honduras that I really appreciated municipal workers.

We were making our way up a winding road when all of a sudden one side had washed out and there was a gaping hole. Had my colleague not braked when he did we would have gone off the side of the mountain. As we continued along several more sections were dangerously washed away.

I realized then how much I take for granted every single day. Back home, Maine municipal and state workers are out at all hours of the night to do their very best to ensure our safety. They plow roads during storms, put up detours to get us where we need to go and repair the infrastructure I depend upon every day.

This Labor Day, while we enjoy a last summer weekend before returning to our fall routines, let’s take a few minutes to thank each other and ourselves for our hard work.

To the teachers who educated me all the way from Abe Lincoln to Bangor High to the University of Maine: thank you.

To the EMTs and firefighters who respond to emergencies and accidents: thank you. To the nurses who are on duty day and night to care for my friends and family: thank you.

To the farm workers who pick the food I eat: thank you. To the restaurant servers, hotel workers, and bartenders who welcome tourists to our state and make their stay here enjoyable: thank you.

We should be proud of what we do to strengthen our communities. It is workers who built this country. It is workers who created the wealth and shared prosperity and success of the working class across the United States.

The first Labor Day was observed on Sept. 5, 1882 and was dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. We must learn about and celebrate the achievements of the labor movement.

Since that first Labor Day, workers have come together to fight for and win so much of what makes our country strong: workplace safety protections, Social Security, child labor laws, good wages and benefits and so much more that we now take for granted.

Unfortunately, the tide now is against the American worker. Some in Augusta, Washington D.C. and across the country seem to have forgotten who makes this country run. Attacks on workers here in Maine and across the country are not attempts to create jobs or improve our economy, but attempts to weaken worker rights and shift more money from our pockets to the pockets of the rich.

From teachers, to Verizon workers, to retired workers who depend on Social Security to survive, these attacks must stop.

Workers have lost their jobs, their homes and their retirements. Productivity is up, but wages are down and working hours are longer. People can barely make ends meet.

And yet, according to Forbes, the nation’s wealthiest 400 individuals have a greater net worth than half of all American households. Corporate profits hit record highs, and Congress continues to extend tax breaks to the richest Americans and yet people who want to work have to piece together multiple, low-paying jobs just to make ends meet.

So as the rich are getting richer and profiting off of the millions of Americans who do the actual work to keep our communities strong and vibrant, the attitude toward workers worsens. Teachers are called lazy and state workers who care for our roads, our seniors and our environment are called greedy. Verizon workers are asked to pay $3,000 a year more for their family’s health insurance while, according to the Institute for Policy Study, the CEO of Verizon makes $18.1 million and the company raked in $705 million in federal tax refunds.

It’s time to invest in those who make our communities strong. This Labor Day, let us remember who built this country and who makes it run. Working families deserve good jobs with pay they can survive on. Seniors who retire after decades of hard work and paying in to the system deserve to fall asleep not worrying that their lifeline — Social Security — will be cut by our elected officials.

Be proud of what you do, and let’s work together to find real solutions to rebuild shared prosperity in the U.S. Our elected officials should end the tax breaks for the rich, tax Wall Street, and change the attitude toward working Americans. Together, let us rebuild what makes this country strong — a vibrant working class.

Sarah Bigney of Bangor works for the Maine AFL-CIO.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/09/04/opinion/contributors/what-labor-has-won-what-must-be-protected/ printed on August 20, 2014