Unions reflect on Labor Day, continue to mobilize

Stephon Johnson | 9/5/2019, 11:53 a.m.
Labor unions celebrated Labor Day this week, but kept one eye toward the future of worker solidarity during conservative rollbacks ...
ILGWU Local 62 marches in a Labor Day parade Kheel Center/Flickr

Labor unions celebrated Labor Day this week, but kept one eye toward the future of worker solidarity during conservative rollbacks of their gains.

Labor Day was created by the labor movement and established as a federal holiday in 1894, yet now the labor movement finds itself in the government’s crosshairs. Under President Donald Trump and the current U.S. Supreme Court, unions lost the ability to make employees pay dues. However, the importance of unions has become more important than ever.

In that vain, DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido wanted to remind people of the fight that’s still at hand.

“As many of our fellow Americans get ready to celebrate Labor Day as the unofficial end of summer, we urge them to similarly recognize the strong contributions that hard working American workers and the unions who represent them continue to make to our nation,” said Garrido. “With blood, sweat and hard work, we fought for and won such key rights and benefits as the eight hour workday, five-day workweek, collective bargaining rights and equal rights. On this Labor Day, let’s celebrate our accomplishments and look forward to taking on the challenges ahead.”

New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta said that while many use the Labor Day weekend to relax, they should not forget the purpose of the holiday.

“As we spend time today traveling with family, firing up our grills or just lounging in a hammock, it’s important to remember the labor movement pioneers who fought to achieve this holiday—the weekend, an eight-hour workday and so many other essential worker protections and benefits,” said Pallotta. “We, as unionists, should look to the examples set by the leaders who came before us as we fight for fair wages and benefits for ourselves and for the next generation of hardworking Americans.”

Some 32BJ SEIU members in New Jersey used Labor Day to put the pressure on management.

Close to 350 union members, elected officials, religious leaders and community allies marched through the rain for 32BJ members to push for a new contract campaign for 7,000 building cleaners in the state. Bargaining will begin in the next few months with the current contract set to expire Dec. 31, 2019.

In New Jersey, 32BJ helped push politicians pass a $15 an hour minimum wage, anti-wage theft legislation, paid family leave and wage increases for airport workers.

“On this Labor Day, we are paying tribute the movement of janitors who work tirelessly to raise the standards of labor in New Jersey,” said 32BJ SEIU vice president and New Jersey State Director Kevin Brown in a statement. “Janitors are fighting for communities where no one is left behind and everyone shares in the prosperity they help create.”

With the current labor fight on hand, Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey brought the labor movement back to the 400th anniversary of the first enslaved Africans landing on what would become U.S. soil.

“The labor that jump-started wealth in this nation was robbed, extorted and stolen from African people brought to these shores in bondage,” stated Sharkey. “But exploitation is an institution blind to the artifice of race, and both this continent’s indigenous people and wave after wave of immigrants to the United States have known the misery of exploitation. These are the very workers, from miners and seamstresses to railroad porters and steelworkers, who built a labor movement that continues to fight for living wages, basic rights and dignity for all.”