FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Democracy Needs Unions

Photograph Source: Labour union demonstrators held at bay by soldiers during the 1912 Lawrence textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts – Public Domain

You deserve to have a say in matters that affect you. Everyone does. That’s democracy.

This shouldn’t change when you go to work.

Democratic rights in the workplace — including the right to form a union, and the power to speak up about workplace issues — go hand in hand with a democratic society. But for decades now, those rights have been under assault.

This Labor Day, it’s time we fight to restore them.

Make no mistake: By whittling away at workers’ right to a voice at work, right-wing corporate activists have also been able to curtail workers’ voices at the ballot box, too.

Unionized workers vote at higher rates than non-union workers. States that have adopted so-called “right to work” laws to undermine unions have seen a net decline in turnout.

That’s exactly why corporate lobbyists and their political cronies push such laws — it’s part of their strategy to weaken support for popular proposals that help working people, from higher minimum wages to stronger social insurance programs.

These efforts work hand in hand with voter suppression, gerrymandering, and other efforts to undermine voting rights — as well as with “carve-outs” to labor laws, which exclude categories of workers like farm and domestic workers. Together these abuses disenfranchise workers and lock in poverty wages.

We’ve seen what happens when huge corporations, and the politicians beholden to them, wield all the political power.

They roll back government oversight so companies can engage in dangerous — even deadly — workplace practices. They widen tax loopholes so that companies that operate in our backyards don’t contribute to the upkeep of our communities. And they make corporations “people” with democratic rights far greater than those of actual human beings.

Then they illegally retaliate against workers who try to join together for change. They threaten mass layoffs and the decimation of communities. From the moment a person is hired, she’s told she’s replaceable and compelled to sign away her rights, leaving her on her own against an all-powerful boss.

But increasingly, working people are fighting back.

Around the nation, worker activists are urging lawmakers to prohibit employers from firing people in retaliation for trying to improve their own workplaces. They’re calling for an end to longstanding racist exclusions of caregivers and agricultural workers from labor protections. And, from poultry plants to commercial banks, they’re blowing the whistle on dangerous employer practices that hurt workers and consumers alike.

Working people are joining together to demand a more just economy in other ways, too.

From Walmart workers walking off the job to protest guns sales following the El Paso massacre, to adjunct professors warning that poverty wages affect the quality in the classroom, workers are protecting our democracy.

When call center workers in Mississippi draw attention to low wages and high turnover in critical federal services, andemployees of the furnishing company Wayfair walk out to protest the inhumane treatment of immigrants at the border, they’re reminding us of our civic responsibilities.

When teachers fill streets and statehouses to raise the specter of generational harm from underfunded schools, and museum employees lift the veil on pay inequality in arts institutions, they highlight the permanent damage to our country if worker voices are silenced.

Restoring worker power isn’t just about restoring the right to unionize. It’s about balancing one-sided corporate control with workplace democracy.

Labor Day and the Fourth of July may be separated by several weeks, but the values they embody are deeply intertwined. If we truly want justice, domestic tranquility, general welfare, and the blessings of liberty, we must allow democracy to flourish in the workplace as well as at the ballot box.

Christine Owens is executive director of the National Employment Law Project.

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
December 12, 2019
Ramzy Baroud
Money, Power and Turf: Winning the Middle East Media War at Any Cost
Martha Rosenberg
How Does One of the Most Hated Industries Stay Profitable?
Steven Salaita
Renouncing Israel on Principle
Basav Sen
Most Americans Support Phasing-Out Fossil Fuels…Isn’t That Worth a Headline?
George Ochenski
Pride Goeth Before the Fall
Ted Rall
The U.S. Government Lied about the Afghanistan War, They Couldn’t Have Done It Without Media Lapdogs
Daniel Falcone
How Working Class Atomization and the Mohawk Valley Formula Gave Us Centrist Democrats
Lawrence Wittner
A Boss is a Boss: Nurses Battle for Their First Union Contract at Albany Medical Center
Kris De Decker
We Can’t Do It Ourselves
James A Haught
Zealots in High Office
Robert Fisk
When You Follow the Gun Trail, You Can End Up in Expected Places
Jerome Irwin
No Israeli Peace, Joy or Goodwill at Christmastime for Palestinians
George Wuerthner
Goat Grazing is No Solution to Wildfires
December 11, 2019
Vijay Prashad
Why the Afghanistan Papers Are an Eerie Reminder of Vietnam
Kenneth Surin
Australia’s Big Smoke
Sameer Dossani
Ideology or Popularity: How Will Britain Vote?
John W. Whitehead
Who Will Protect Us From an Unpatriotic Patriot Act?
Binoy Kampmark
Interference Paranoia: Russia, Reddit and the British Election
Scott Tucker
Sure, Impeach Trump, But Let’s be Honest
Nyla Ali Khan
Homogenizing India: the Citizenship Debate
Thomas Knapp
Congress: The Snail’s Pace Race
Shawn Fremstad
Modern Family Progressivism
Joseph Essertier
Julian Assange, Thanks for Warning Japanese About Washington
William Minter
How Africa Could Power a Green Revolution
December 10, 2019
Tony McKenna
The Demonization of Jeremy Corbyn
John Grant
American Culture Loves a Good Killer
Jacob Hornberger
Afghanistan: a Pentagon Paradise Built on Lies
Nick Licata
Was Trump Looking for Corruption or a Personal Favor?
Thomas M. Magstadt
What’s the Matter With America?
Brian Tokar
Climate Talks in Madrid: What Will It Take to Prevent Climate Collapse?
Ron Jacobs
Where Justice is a Game: Impeachment Hearings Redux
Jack Rasmus
Trump vs. Democracy
Walden Bello
Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics
Binoy Kampmark
A Troubled Family: NATO Turns 70
Brian Horejsi
Citizens Are Never Trusted
Michael Barker
Self-Defense in the Civil Rights Movement: the Lessons of Birmingham, 1963
John Feffer
Soldiers Who Fight War
Howie Wolke
Willingness to Compromise Puts Wilderness at Risk
December 09, 2019
Jefferson Morley
Trump’s Hand-Picked Prosecutor John Durham Cleared the CIA Once, Will He Again?
Kirkpatrick Sale
Political Collapse: The Center Cannot Hold
Ishmael Reed
Bloomberg Condoned Sexual Assault by NYPD 
W. T. Whitney
Hitting at Cuban Doctors and at Human Solidarity
Louisa Willcox
The Grizzly Cost of Coexistence
Thomas Knapp
Meet Virgil Griffith: America’s Newest Political Prisoner
John Feffer
How the New Right Went Global — and How to Stop It
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail