By Congressman Elijah Cummings
On our national Labor Day just passed, I paused to recall how, for my family, like so many others, our struggles for civil rights and economic rights have always been intertwined.
We must remember and never hesitate to speak this truth. Labor Day must be about more than the momentary pleasures of fireworks or a parade. Labor Day must be both a remembrance of our past hardships and progress and a collective recommitment to our continuing struggles today.
The Lessons of our History
Our history is clear. Only when working people of every racial background have joined together in common cause and fought for greater fairness, in both our civic lives and our livelihoods, have we been able to make progress toward that “more perfect Union” promised to us by our national creed.
We also must never forget, however, that rights gained can be eroded and even taken away.
Working Americans gained a vote in our workplaces through legally-protected collective bargaining that complemented and reinforced our political voices at the ballot box.
Even as our nation’s unions stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Americans of color in our fight for voting rights, non-discrimination, and other civil rights, it was largely through our labor unions that we gained a fuller measure of the economic American Dream.
President Franklin Roosevelt and other New Deal reformers called this balance of labor power and political influence “industrial democracy;” and tens of millions of American families, including my own, were empowered as a result.
More recently, however, this “industrial democracy” has been under sustained attack by corporate interests and their political allies – attacks that emanate today from the White House, the Republicans in Congress and even from some of our courts.
Paradoxically, even as public support for the labor unions that are fighting for “industrial democracy” is reaching record highs, union rights and power, and the American workers these unions represent, continue to be under relentless attack by large corporations and their political allies.
President Trump and his Republican congressional allies are doing all that they can to undercut the wages and workplace protections of working families, including many of the same Americans who voted for them in 2016 and 2018.
Standing Up for Democracy
Confronted by this reactionary onslaught, Americans of every racial background would be well advised to understand that strong support for workers’ rights benefits us all, as well as our country. This is why, when I was privileged to chair the Democratic Party’s 2016 Platform Drafting Committee, we made our party’s commitment to “raising incomes and restoring economic security for the middle class” our first priority [https://democrats.org/where-we-stand/party-platform/].
Today, in the United States Senate and House of Representatives, Democrats are doing everything within our power to make good on that commitment to strengthen and restore the “industrial democracy” that is so central to our prosperity.
For example, I was proud to join my colleague and friend, House Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott [D-VA-3], as we passed and sent to the Senate the Raise the Wage Act [H.R. 582] that would raise the national minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025.
Sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Bernie Sanders with 31 co-sponsors including Maryland Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, the Raise the Wage Act would be a major step toward raising wages for up to 33 million American workers, would lift 1.3 million Americans out of poverty, and would stimulate economic growth for everyone, especially those who live in communities that are struggling.
Along with Chairman Scott, we Democrats also recognize, however, that our nation’s working families will continue to struggle and the disparities in income will continue to worsen unless we take strong remedial action to strengthen workers’ right to organize themselves into unions.
This is why I was deeply gratified to be able to join more than 190 of my Democratic colleagues in co-sponsoring H.R. 2474, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act [S. 1306 in the Senate].
A recent analysis by the National Bureau of Economic Research confirmed that unions have consistently provided workers with a 10-20 percent wage boost over their non-union counterparts.
As wage inequality continues to leave workers and middle-class families behind, our proposed legislation would strengthen protections for workers’ right to organize unions and bargain for higher wages, better benefits and safer working conditions.
The Road Ahead
I wish that I could believe that the current President and Republicans in Congress would see the wisdom in the reforms that we Democrats are proposing. Yet, for all of their platitudes about the value of working Americans, they remain hostile to the very reforms that could make a real difference in so many lives.
Still, if the American People vote with us next year, these reforms will become law and we truly will be able to proclaim that, in our America, every day is Labor Day.
Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Afro-American Newspapers.