The way to remember 9/11: Restore workers’ rights and the Constitution

September 11 was the 14th anniversary of the infamous attack on the U.S.

The World Trade Center was smashed, the Pentagon damaged, and 2,987 people were killed.

Among the victims were 343 New York Fire Fighters and their priest, who were heroically saving other people when the Twin Towers crashed to the ground after two airplanes hit the buildings. The fourth commandeered plane crashed in Pennsylvania after its passengers fought back against the hijackers.

Unionists from many trades – from Hotel Employee and Restaurant Employee members working at the Twin Towers’ restaurant to NABET technicians tending TV antennae atop the WTC – also died. Unionists were one of every five people killed. The deaths haven’t stopped.

The buildings’ collapse loosed a toxic cloud of particulates, jet fuel, asbestos, heavy metals, and God-knows-what-else. In the succeeding years, dozens of Fire Fighters exposed to the debris have sickened and died.

But it seems that in the intervening years, the country as a whole – and its political leaders in particular – have moved on, or even forgotten, the attack and its victims.

It took years before Congress set up a compensation program, named for New York fire fighter James Zadroga, who died after the attack from the effects of the toxic cloud. The program pays for medical exams, treatment and lost wages for workers permanently disabled and eventually dead from the effects of the debris.

That program, established under the Obama – not Bush – administration, is expiring. The Fire Fighters are again lobbying for legislation to extend it and make it permanent.

But the country, by and large, has even greater amnesia than that, and for that we can thank our politicians, of both parties, but led by then-President George W. Bush and, especially, then-Vice President Richard Cheney. Business happily “forgot,” too.

That’s because those forces used the attacks as an excuse to achieve their goals: Trashing the Constitution, enacting right wing programs and extending corporate hegemony.

Cheney and Bush pushed the so-called Patriot Act through a supine Congress. Solons on both sides of the aisle rushed to support it, in the name of fighting the “Global War on Terror.” In doing so, they obliterated basic civil rights, and we still feel the effects.

Business wrapped itself in the flag, literally. The head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce piously proclaimed his members would not use the 9/11 attacks as an excuse to smash their foes. If they did, the Chamber would crack down. (We asked the question.)

Three weeks later, the chamber – sounding a patriotic horn – ran commercials linking the fight against terrorists to the fight to enact so-called right-to-work legislation in an Oklahoma referendum. That was “for freedom,” business said. It won. Its assault continues.

And corporate hegemony mushroomed thanks to Bush’s post-9/11 policies and no-bid contracts awarded to business behemoths, such as Cheney’s former employer, Halliburton.

Lost in all of this are the victims of 9/11: Workers, especially union workers.

Reversing the disastrous effects of 9/11 will take years, if not decades. Reversing the disastrous effects of post-9/11 policies, from the Patriot Act to the corporate hegemony, will take years, if not decades, too.

We can start by renewing the Zadroga Act. But we can’t stop there.

This will be a war, a long war, to restore our country to the standards and values for workers – for all of us – that the fire fighters at the Twin Towers died for.

Winning that war would be a fitting way to remember 9/11.

Photo: AP


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.