Op-Ed

This Labor Day, a question: ‘Are the corporations the masters or servants of the people?’

AFL-CIO chief Bill Londrigan fires up labor rally

Bill Londrigan, president of the Kentucky AFL-CIO, speaks at a rally to protest anti-union bills in the Capitol Rotunda on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017.
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Bill Londrigan, president of the Kentucky AFL-CIO, speaks at a rally to protest anti-union bills in the Capitol Rotunda on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017.

The war on America’s workers and their unions is now in its fifth decade. Beginning in the 1970s corporations launched an assault on the building trades unions to weaken their bargaining power and de-unionize the construction industry. Next, union-busting in the manufacturing and industrial sectors became the norm and unfair trade agreements killed millions of unionized manufacturing jobs. Then came the third wave of anti-unionism financed by the likes of the Koch Brothers and their corporate allies against the fastest growing sector of the union movement – public employee unions.

The undisputed result of the corporate war on workers and their unions has been an ever-increasing disparity between the wealthiest one percent and everyone else, resulting in the highest level of income inequality in history. Wage stagnation is now a constant feature of our economy with workers squeezed at every level. Millions of workers are employed in low-wage jobs with few benefits and millions are forced to work multiple jobs in order to feed their families.

Here in Kentucky we have witnessed the unprecedented assault on the pensions of our valued public employees and teachers; miners being victimized by wealthy coal operators who weaponize bankruptcy courts to deprive miners of wages, pensions and health insurance they are owed; factories like Ledvance and Trane closing down and laying off hundreds of workers; forty counties in economic distress with long-term unemployment and poverty rates among the highest in the nation; and hundreds of members of the Communications Workers of America in Kentucky went on strike last week against the corporate colossus AT&T, which promised to hire thousands more workers following their huge corporate tax cut but instead cut jobs while posting billions of dollars in profits.

All of this brings to mind the question posed over a century ago by Governor William Goebel, “Are the corporations the masters or servants of the people?”

On this Labor Day you should think about the meaning and importance of Governor Goebel’s incisive query and recognize that only by organizing our workplaces and bargaining collectively will corporations be held accountable and become true servants of the people.

Bill Londrigan is president of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO.

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