I was surprised that a friend recently didn’t know what the UAW sticker on my car meant. Sadly, there are many people who probably don’t appreciate what organized labor has done for us. The UAW, or United Auto Workers, has been around since 1915. Its president had this to say in a recent statement :
“Labor Day is the day that we celebrate and recognize the spirit, strength and life-changing contributions of working men and women across this nation. It is the voice, the sacrifice and the unwillingness to give up that defines our labor movement and our union.
So, I would like to remind all of us that it is labor that built America and America’s middle class. It is labor that has brought us fair wages, health care benefits, retirement, health and safety standards, a voice in the workplace and so much more. It is labor that stands up to social and civil injustice and it was the working men and women of this nation that stepped up when our country was in need of critical life-saving Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
Our brothers and sisters were among the first to go to work to make PPE, to make ventilators, to staff food banks and help out in countless ways in communities from coast to coast. But then, that is what we do — and what we have always done.”
Organized labor has always been there for the working class.
The UAW has lobbied for a Civil Rights Law, formation of OSHA, an Election Day paid holiday for auto workers, and to protect workers in numerous industries.
Before the labor movement gained steam in the 1800s, workers were overworked, underpaid, and not protected from workplace dangers. Children labored beside adults and were often victims of workplace safety lapses.
Strikes, protests, and riots were effective in getting organized labor some concessions from the rich overlords. Wealthy women such as Jane Addams supported the labor movement in its infancy. Child labor was ended in 1881, although not for farm workers. In 1938, the work week was dropped from 100 hours to 40 and a minimum wage was established.
President Reagan was a notorious union-buster and closed down OSHA offices to make conditions less safe. Since his election in 1980, wages have remained stagnant except for the wealthy. The decline of unions has been cited as a contributing factor for flat wages. Inequality and deregualtion, especially in other countries, also take a share of the blame for our huge wage gap, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. A more progressive tax structure would help solve the problem of income inequality.
Meanwhile, “labor unions have proven to be the only consistently effective mechanism for enabling workers to express their concerns and exert significant influence in the workplace..unions have benefited not only members, but the workforce as a whole.”
Labor Unions and workers have been significantly beaten up by politicians as of late. Even if, like most of us, you aren’t in a labor union, it’s time to give them, and workers, respect and to pay attention to the damaging policies enacted over the past few years by politicans who claim to represent the working class but favor the wealthy instead. President Trump even indicted Ronald Reagan into the Department of Labor’s Hall of Fame. We workers have paid the price for one bad president long ago. Let’s hope there isn’t more price to be paid.
Meanwhile, we can thank the UAW for providing protective equipment such as masks and gowns and equipment such as ventillators for healthcare professionals and workers during the pandemic when our elected officals couldn’t seem to get it done because, they didn’t want to.