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
Weekend Edition
November 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Meet Ukraine: America’s Newest “Strategic Ally”
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Frankenstein Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Ukraine in the Membrane
Jonathan Steele
The OPCW and Douma: Chemical Weapons Watchdog Accused of Evidence-Tampering by Its Own Inspectors
Kathleen Wallace
A Gangster for Capitalism: Next Up, Bolivia
Andrew Levine
Get Trump First, But Then…
Thomas Knapp
Trump’s Democratic Critics Want it Both Ways on Biden, Clinton
Ipek S. Burnett
The United States Needs Citizens Like You, Dreamer
Michael Welton
Fundamentalism as Speechlessness
David Rosen
A Century of Prohibition
Nino Pagliccia
Morales: Bolivia Suffers an Assault on the Power of the People
Dave Lindorff
When an Elected Government Falls in South America, as in Bolivia, Look For a US Role
John Grant
Drones, Guns and Abject Heroes in America
Clark T. Scott
Bolivia and the Loud Silence
Manuel García, Jr.
The Truthiest Reality of Global Warming
Ramzy Baroud
A Lesson for the Palestinian Leadership: Real Reasons behind Israel’s Arrest and Release of Labadi, Mi’ri
Charles McKelvey
The USA “Defends” Its Blockade, and Cuba Responds
Louis Proyect
Noel Ignatiev: Remembering a Comrade and a Friend
John W. Whitehead
Casualties of War: Military Veterans Have Become America’s Walking Wounded
Patrick Bond
As Brazil’s ex-President Lula is Set Free and BRICS Leaders Summit, What Lessons From the Workers Party for Fighting Global Neoliberalism?
Alexandra Early
Labor Opponents of Single Payer Don’t  Speak For Low Wage Union Members
Pete Dolack
Resisting Misleading Narratives About Pacifica Radio
Edward Hunt
It’s Still Not Too Late for Rojava
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Why Aren’t Americans Rising up Like the People of Chile and Lebanon?
Nicolas Lalaguna
Voting on the Future of Life on Earth
Jill Richardson
The EPA’s War on Science Continues
Lawrence Davidson
The Problem of Localized Ethics
Richard Hardigan
Europe’s Shameful Treatment of Refugees: Fire in Greek Camp Highlights Appalling Conditions
Judith Deutsch
Permanent War: the Drive to Emasculate
David Swanson
Why War Deaths Increase After Wars
Raouf Halaby
94 Well-Lived Years and the $27 Traffic Fine
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Coups-for-Green-Energy Added to Wars-For-Oil
Andrea Flynn
What Breast Cancer Taught Me About Health Care
Negin Owliaei
Time for a Billionaire Ban
Binoy Kampmark
Business as Usual: Evo Morales and the Coup Condition
Bernard Marszalek
Toward a Counterculture of Rebellion
Brian Horejsi
The Benefits of Environmental Citizenship
Brian Cloughley
All That Gunsmoke
Graham Peebles
Why is there so Much Wrong in Our Society?
Jonah Raskin
Black, Blue, Jazzy and Beat Down to His Bones: Being Bob Kaufman
John Kendall Hawkins
Treason as a Lifestyle: I’ll Drink to That
Manuel García, Jr.
Heartrending Antiwar Songs
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
Poetry and Political Struggle: The Dialectics of Rhyme
Ben Terrall
The Rise of Silicon Valley
David Yearsley
Performance Anxiety
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail