Ky. Voices: Labor movement the foundation of U.S. middle class

September 4, 2013 

The American worker today is being squeezed between two very powerful forces: corporations that want to minimize worker bargaining power and wages, and Tea Party activists who want safety-net programs to be eliminated.

These two forces are cutting the very things that organized labor has worked so hard to provide for the American worker — the belief and reality that if you commit to working hard every day, you can provide a better life for your family than your parents were able to provide you.

Mobility in the United States is at its lowest level in generations — and this is no accident. When John F. Kennedy spoke to the AFL-CIO in 1963 he spoke of the principles and programs which have made our country strong: raising the minimum wage, committing to social security, providing benefits to children of jobless workers and many more.

These are principles and programs that are both needed again, and in need of protecting.

The rights of workers in the United States need continual strengthening through an increased minimum wage, increased use of the prevailing wage and continued defense of collective-bargaining rights.

American workers need the pensions they have earned to be protected, and women need equal pay, We must continue to oppose "right to work" legislation that would further strain on Kentucky's workers and their families.

I am a businesswoman. I am all for market competition. And I believe business is more competitive when it is recognizing the fundamental dignity of the American worker.

The foundations of our economy are rooted in the success and existence of the labor movement, and attempts to turn that back must be stopped. The ability of our workers to not only make a living, but to move up on the economic ladder through hard work is vital for who we are as Americans.

It is no accident that it is becoming less possible. An article in Business Insider in July noted, "that increasing inequality plays an increasing role in determining where people end up, and that hard work means less. People at the bottom of the income ladder are more likely to stay there in the United States than in many other countries around the world, and those at the top often remain rich."

It is of vital importance for all Americans that we continue to fight for the dignity of the American worker.

This is why our call now — in the wake of a Labor Day that comes on the heels of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom — is to recommit ourselves to creating the environment where the American worker can once again thrive.

The labor movement is the back upon which the vibrancy and life of the American economy is built. We must strive to make sure this continues to be the case, and to make sure the American dream — of being able to work hard and leave a better future for your children— is accessible to everyone, no matter your station in life.

Elisabeth Jensen is executive director of the Race for Education and a Democratic candidate for the 6th Congressional District.

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