Workers Rights Are Civil Rights

Leo Gerard

This week the minimum wage rose by 70 cents to $7.25 an hour, a beggar’s lot really, but still corporations across America decried it. Good times or bad, somehow Wall Streeters walk away with $700,000 bonuses, you know, on top of their salaries, but a 70-cent minimum wage hike is never affordable.

That’s why America’s workers must seize control of their own fates. President Obama said: “Our destiny is not written for us. It is written by us.” Well, on a sweltering July 11, 1,500 civil rights, human rights and workers rights activists in Little Rock began writing a new destiny for American workers.

That destiny includes the freedom to form and join a union and to collectively bargain for a piece of the wealth they helped create. That destiny includes passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.

The 1,500 met in Little Rock because Arkansas is the home state of Sen. Blanche Lincoln, a Democrat who turned her back on the Employee Free Choice Act this year, succumbing to pressure from the likes of Wal-Mart, a notoriously anti-union corporation headquartered in the Razorback State. Many Wal-Mart workers will be getting a 70 cent raise this week – thanks to that minimum wage hike.

Rich Trumka, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, and I met with Sen. Lincoln a couple of days before the rally, and she kept telling us how she had passed legislation to help children and how she really wanted to help families. The best way to help families is to let them help themselves through collective bargaining.

I’ll tell you what I told the 1,500 in Little Rock that day. Write her. Call her. E-mail her. “Tell her the best way to help the children, the best way to help families, the best way to help the seniors, the best way to get to the middle class is for workers to have the right to join a union and bargain collectively for a piece of the pie that they helped to make and for a piece of the wealth they helped to create.”

That is what the Employee Free Choice Act does.

The rally in Little Rock started at Central High School where nine Black youngsters braved violence to desegregate in 1958. Fifty-one years later, we are engaged in another civil rights struggle. And Rev. Wendell Griffin, a Baptist pastor and judge on the Arkansas Court of Appeals, expressed that best.

Rev. Griffin asked the 1,500, “Are we free?”

No one yelled yes.

He repeated, “Are we free?”

Again, no affirmative response.

He explained, when one person is not free, all people are not free. “We are brothers and sisters, and when one worker is not paid fairly, all workers are not paid fairly.”  And, he said, the way for all workers to be paid fairly, is for workers to have the right to organize.

He told the story of his father working, without a union, in a saw mill; how he later got  union representation, a raise, a pension and better working conditions. And, importantly, how that changed his family’s life.

 Finally, he told the crowd: “What my father had is what every worker ought to have in Arkansas.”

Every worker should have the right to join a union, receive a pension and labor in safety.
He noted that the people of Arkansas have given that to Blanche Lincoln – voted to provide her with a government job, good benefits and a pension.

“Now is our time,” he said.

“Employee Free Choice Act Now.”

Watch the Video.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXFVlqWItJc

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