The labor movement in the US has a very rough history.
When we talk about the minimum wage and the economy as a whole, there can’t be any ambiguity about this: We support the interests and improvements to the quality of life for workers over those of capital, that is, the employers and owners of the companies that laborers work for.
Traditionally, the owners have had much more power over the working conditions in their shops than the workers have. They’ve had more bargaining power when it comes to wages, benefits, and quality of life than their employees have had.
Under capitalism, unions are the best way to equalize the two, and shift the balance of power from the “few” to the “many.
The labor movement in the United States began back in the early days of the industrial revolution, in the latter half of the 19th century. It began with the simple idea that when united, the workers had more control over what happens in a business than the owners do, and that they can use this power to force the owners to negotiate fairly.
Every September we celebrate the labor movement, the effort by laborers that led to vast improvements in the growth, strength, prosperity, and well-being of the people in this country. In 1933, FDR gave workers the right to officially organize into unions, and since then workers have had, in his words, “The right to organize and bargain collectively through representative of their own choosing, and shall be free from the interference, restraint, or coercion of employers.”
That law, the National Industrial Recovery Act, and the NLRA which passed two years later, cemented the foundations of labor unions in the United States
But for the past 60+ years, we’ve seen the labor movement in decline. In 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act severely limited the power of unions, and since then we’ve seen many states, including Kentucky, pass disastrous laws that prevented unions from carrying their full bargaining power.
Now, in 2019, fewer than 7% of private sector employees were union members. Public sector unions are severely restricted. We’ve signed away our rights to organize, to strike, and to force the employers to the table.
We can change that, moving forward. We can start by overturning right-to-work laws, allowing unions to put more pressure on the shops they work in. We can strengthen enforcement of existing labor laws, which prevent employers from disciplining, threatening, or firing employees for attempting to organize, and we can educate workers about their rights and what joining a union actually means, and what the benefits actually are.
We can, and must do this, for the future of our community, our state, and our country. This is our way forward. This is what “Stronger Together” means. This is what our state motto, “United We Stand, Divided We Fall” means.
We’ll do this, and we’ll all be better for it. Thank you.
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