How can we fight for working families?

John J. Sweeney

John Sweeney attends a speech by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka at the National Press Club on May 20, 2011, in Washington, D.C.

The overall fight is clear: We must rein in corporate power and fight for working families’ core issues — good jobs, affordable healthcare, a secure retirement and strong communities.

In the next four years, we must stake out and reinforce these areas where we cannot allow the dam to break under the Bush administration. We must create political movements that take advantage of, and maintain, the vibrant political activism of the left in the 2004 presidential campaign. We have to launch proactive fights that are driven by principle and show what we stand for.

We can and will win a fight against privatizing Social Security. We will not allow this basic safety net to be dismantled so corporations can get their slice.” And we must expose the administration’s tax breaks as golden cookie jars for the rich.

The entire progressive movement will need to fight back against attacks on workers. We expect to see efforts to strip workers of their freedom to choose unions and to weaken workers’ organizations by launching Right to Work bills in many Republican-led states. Look for the administration to attempt, at corporations’ behest, to cut overtime pay even further. Of course, they’ll do it in the name of family values.

On the offensive front, we need to motivate voters in the middle class who largely succumbed to fear and voted against their own economic security.

We must be proactive about workers’ rights. People of social conscience must take a stand when it comes to workers’ freedom to form unions. This is a civil right fundamental to a just society, and it’s a fight that we can ill afford to leave on the sidelines.

We must build support for the Employee Free Choice Act that both punishes ruthless employers who use illegal and immoral tactics when workers try to organize and allows employees to freely choose whether to form unions by signing cards. 

And we must wage a real fight for affordable healthcare for all. About 45 million are without healthcare, and Americans understand fundamentally that healthcare for children is a moral issue. We must seize the high ground, and show how we stand for people’s basic beliefs in this area.

We also must take on those employers that are leading the race to the bottom on wages and healthcare, like Wal-Mart. When the country’s largest private employer offers good jobs with a voice on the jobs, decent wages and healthcare, we will all benefit. The labor movement and its partners already have succeeded in staying Wal-Mart’s voracious growth in Los Angeles, Oakland and other communities. We can grow this fight.

The problem before us is not how to define the battle cry issue. Our dilemma is to learn how to show that our basic values are America’s values and that corporate control of our social agenda poses a fundamental danger to our country and our democracy.

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John J. Sweeney is president emeritus of the AFL-CIO, America’s largest federation of labor unions.
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