On the eighth anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, the AFL-CIO’s Stewart Acuff takes a look back at the tragedy’s impact on working families and calls for all of us to move forward in attaining the goals that will improve the lives of America’s workers.
It is so important to remember 9/11 and the union brothers and sisters who died that day. As you know, a lot of union brothers and sisters died that day—members of HERE who worked in the restaurant, SEIU members and every first responder was a union member—bus drivers with ATU and TWU, more than 100 union cops, 25 union electricians and 373 union firefighters who went into those towers of fire and death knowing they’d never come out, never go home again. Doing their jobs like union folks do every damn day.
Every single person who answered that 911 call that day was a union member.But let us also not forget the aftermath of one of America’s greatest tragedies.
George Bush and his right-wing administration set up the Department of Homeland Security with 160,000 folks from other agencies and took away their collective bargaining and union rights. Then they set up the Transportation Security Administration and denied 30,000 workers their collective bargaining and union rights. And without explaining themselves, they said that collective bargaining and unions are a threat to the security of America.
A threat to our nation’s security? We answer every call for our country. It is the kids of workers who fight our wars, trade their blood for oil.
Unionism a threat to our security—this from a vice president who took five deferments to avoid Vietnam and a president who was so busy getting high and drunk he couldn’t show up for the National Guard, which conveniently lost his records. 373 union firefighters, 100 union cops and 25 union electricians died on 9/11 doing what we all do—fulfilling our responsibilities, doing our jobs.
And we are the ones who stand up to the greed and arrogance of the corporations who have ripped off our country for 30 years who believe they have a right to live like kings on the backs of America’s workers.
And we are the ones who had the hard, brutally honest conversations all over America in white communities and neighborhoods, in union halls, on front porches, at worksites about why white workers had to put aside prejudices and biases and elect a brilliant, compassionate, pro-union President Barack Obama—the most pro-union president since Harry Truman—who talks about unions and says unions are not the problem, that unions are the solution.
And I don’t know about you but he made me damn proud Wednesday night, telling the nation and the radical right he is going to enact our—your labor movement’s health care reform! Lower the costs of your Taft-Hartley funds, force ABC rats to pay for health care and allow good union employers to better compete with rat bastards.
Do you know the biggest reason for the bankruptcies of the American auto companies—health care costs. It costs $1,500 more per vehicle for the Big 3 to make than foreign competitors because the Big 3 pays for health care.
Organized workers always have been and always will be the best defenders of democracy.
Let me remind you, please, that the labor movement created the modern American middle class in the 1940s and 50s. Because workers won the right to organize in 1935, 12 million went out and formed unions, and we became the first country in the history of the world where if you made your living by the strength of your back or the hardness of your hands or the sweat of your brow you could aspire to raise your kids in the dignity of the middle class.
And we were proud of that—so proud that after World War II when we sent money to Europe and Japan to rebuild, we also sent union organizers and said if you want to stop totalitarianism from ever coming back, if you want to stop Nazism from ever coming back in Germany or Austria or Facism from coming back to Italy or Imperialism from coming back to Japan, build strong unions. Organized workers always have been and always will be the best defense of democracy.
Now our love for our country and our people is being tested again. Our people, our country, and our democracy desperately need real health care reform and the restoration of the freedom to form unions and bargain collectively.
Our economic crisis was created by insatiable corporate greed, government deregulation, allowing corporate power to run wild and our country forgetting basic truths. For 30 years we’ve allowed corporations and the radical right wing to convince us that 4,000 years of human history, human wisdom and our sacred teachings are wrong. My Bible says greed is the worst part of human nature. They said greed is good. Jesus said—Are you not your brother’s keeper? They said you’re on your own. In Matthew 25, Jesus said “Whatsoever ye have done unto the least of these, ye have also done unto me.” They said workers and the poor don’t matter—only profit matters—and the stock market. That’s why Jesus, the construction worker, the Carpenter said, “Its easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
And now because the rich and powerful have had their way for 30 years, there just isn’t enough consumer demand, Americans don’t have enough money to lift our country out of recession and power the great American economic engine.
That is just one reason that we must pass the Employee Free Choice Act as soon as possible. Our country and our economy need workers to have the freedom to bargain for better wages, for a fairer share of the wealth we create, to bargain for more buying power.
And our country needs stronger unions and more union members to ensure our country remembers human history and human wisdom and what the labor movement never forgot—that we are all in this together, that an injury to one is an injury to all, that we are one people with one Almighty God who commands us to love one another, that we are our sister’s keeper and our brother’s keeper, that when we organize we lift everyone up together, everyone’s kids, everyone’s family, we ensure everyone’s future and everyone’s justice on the job.
So while Rush Limbaugh and Dick Armey and the Chamber of Commerce and the rat ABC and Dick Cheney and Karl Rove and every other rat bastard does all they can to stop change, to lie and intimidate and confuse people to stop the change America and our people need, let me remind you that America did not become great because Americans were afraid of change. The history of America is the story of average workers like you and me uniting and fighting for the common good—from the mechanics guilds in Philadelphia with Tom Paine and the earliest unions in Boston with Sam Adams who laid the foundation for the American Revolution to those who joined with William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass to end slavery to the women who marched with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to win the right for women to vote to A. Philip Randolph and Dr. King and the Rev. James Orange who freed African Americans to our labor forebears who lifted millions of workers from poverty and created the American Dream.
This is now our moment, brothers and sisters to change America, to do our part to form a more perfect union, to take our place alongside other workers who made America great, who said we won’t let fear and greed and hatred stop us.
Keep on brothers and sisters. Fight on. Don’t lose faith. Don’t lose hope. History is made by people like us. Health care for all. Employee Free Choice Act. Let’s make history.