With the message “Give back our hard-earned money! Take back your overtime pay cut!,” several thousand workers on Wednesday, October 5, delivered hundreds of thousands of postcards to the Bush/Cheney office headquarters in 17 battleground cities against the Bush overtime pay cut, even taking over their offices in several cities. These workers are enraged about the fact that the Bush Administration’s overtime pay cut strips up to six million workers of their right to receive overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours in a week.
With this new rule, President Bush has given his corporate friends the green light to stop paying overtime to hardworking Americans. It’s a corporate welfare handout at workers’ expense, and it’s just plain wrong. Many of the workers that participated in Wednesday’s actions talked about how they will personally be impacted by these cuts, saying that they will now be forced to work longer hours for less and that this is the last thing they need right now when they’re already struggling in this tough economy.
By denying workers their overtime pay, George Bush has taken the first set of steps toward dismantling the eight-hour workday. With his effort in manipulating the Department of Labor to rename overtime protection for professional employees and others, Bush has begun and signaled his intention to move back the eight-hour workday and its promise of some measure of leisure for America’s workers. Despite the fact that the United States Senate has repeatedly voted to stop his efforts, he continues to pursue his radical agenda.
If Bush can get away with taking away overtime pay from six million workers, then what is next on his chopping block? Social Security? The minimum wage? Child labor laws? We’re angry, and we’re not going to take it.
Rolling back collective bargaining rights for America’s workers is his next target. When the Bush Administration created the Transportation Security Administration, thereby making airport screeners federal employees, he destroyed their right to organize and bargain collectively as private sector employees. Despite this, screeners in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Baltimore-Washington and other airports are still struggling to form their unions to win quality health care, a living wage, and a say in their working conditions.
Now George Bush is trying to cancel collective bargaining rights for thousands of other federal employees, including privatizing the Department of Defense and other agencies, guided by his scornful vision of destroying the unions and bargaining rights these employees have built and earned over decades of effort.
There may be no clearer example of the cynicism of the Bush Administration than the cancellations of collective bargaining after 9/11 in the Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration for the sake of “security concerns.” Every worker who answered the call on 9/11 and went into those Twin Towers – every fire fighter, every police officer, every EMT was a union member. Over 300 union members died that day trying to rescue Americans from a terrorist attack.
Yet, when the Bush Administration created the Department of Homeland Security, they cancelled collective bargaining rights for 160,000 federal workers. In the Bush Administration, union members are good enough to die in the war on terrorism but not good enough to process files and paper in their Washington offices.
With his multiple attacks on overtime, the eight hour work day and collective bargaining and organizing rights, George Bush and his administration have begun their assault on the most fundamental freedoms of America’s workers. These rights were won at the cost of extraordinary bloodshed and employer and government sponsored violence.
From the early days of the American labor movement in the 19th Century to the New Deal Reforms of 1930’s and beyond, more strikes, more job actions, and more employer violence happened in the struggle of America’s workers to win the freedom to form their own unions and limit their hours of work than any other issue.
Bush has attacked and appears to be intent on destroying the foundation of today’s labor movement, and he’s making sacrifices of the worker martyrs who died for these rights.
- In 1898, in the Homestead, PA Steel Strike, 50 workers were killed while on strike for union recognition and the eight-hour workday.
- In 1916, the state militia intentionally burned 13 children to death in Ludlow, Colorado because their fathers were on strike for the eight-hour workday and union recognition.
- In 1937, 12 marching steelworkers were murdered at Republic Steel in Chicago, Illinois, while on strike for the freedom to form their own union.
- Cesar Chavez spent decades fasting and struggling to earn the freedom to organize and bargain collectively for farm workers.
- In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated while leading a struggle of city-employed garbage works to form a union and bargain collectively.
The stakes for America’s workers and progressives in this year’s election could hardly be higher. We must beat George Bush. We have to run our politics this year like the welfare of our kids is at stake. We have to work politically like our future is at stake. We have to campaign like our way of life is at stake…. because it is. We must work this year with the weight of history on our shoulders and the sacrifice of our martyrs in our hearts and minds.
Stewart Acuff is the
National AFL-CIO Organizing Director.