Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education, says this Labor Day provides an opportunity for progressives to join together to rebuild the economy and reinvigorate the fight for social and economic justice.

Labor Day is a time to celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of working people throughout the generations. American workers are among the most productive in the world. Labor unions have been a positive social force that helped to build the American middle class, to improve wages and working conditions, to provide for health care and retirement benefits, and to ensure that the wealth generated by working people is fairly distributed.

But Labor Day 2009 finds the U.S. economy in the worst recession in decades. Bank failures, corporate downsizing, the mortgage crisis and tremendous economic insecurity are signs of the times. The United States has lost more than 6 million jobs, and more than 45 million Americans are without health care.

The economic policies of the Bush administration brought us to where we are today. I would summarize the policies of the Bush administration as the “three D’s”-deregulation, deindustrialization and deunionization.

Conservatives love to attack government regulation, and the Bush administration led the charge. Regulations were slashed and burned; the free market went wild; corporate executives lined their pockets with billions; and the banks, financial institutions, stock market and housing sector crashed. The policies of deregulation led to the economic crisis we are facing today.

Conservatives also love free trade at any expense. Corporations have been given free reign to transcend national boundaries, and to maximize profits at all costs. Plant shutdowns, capital flight and deindustrialization have been the consequence. Large-scale manufacturing in this country, which helped to build our middle class, has virtually disappeared.

Finally, conservatives have attacked unions. High-wage, unionized manufacturing jobs have been replaced by low-wage, nonunion service jobs. Wal-Mart, the largest corporation in the country, is aggressively anti-union. Union density is low, and corporations abuse worker rights with virtual impunity. Our bankrupt labor laws prohibit workers from exercising their most basic and fundamental right to form and join unions.

But in the midst of this crisis, there is opportunity. With the help of labor unions, Barack Obama was elected president as a leader representing hope and change. He is advocating an agenda that supports working people. But he can’t do it alone. Unions are a critical partner to ensure that these dreams of hope and change become a reality.

The battle for the hearts and minds of the people of this country is unfolding. Conservatives are attacking health care reform, corporations are spending millions to oppose the Employee Free Choice Act and nativists are blaming the economic crisis on immigrants. But now is the time for the American labor movement to stand together, to fight for social and economic justice, and to rebuild our economy to lift up all working people.

On this Labor Day, let us work together for health care reform, for the Employee Free Choice Act and for immigration reform. Let us turn the corner, revive our economy and honor and cherish the working men and women who are instrumental in building America’s future.

 

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