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Securing the Common Good Underlies Labor Movement
Published on Monday, September 4, 2006 by the Madison Capital Times (Wisconsin)
Securing the Common Good Underlies Labor Movement
by David Newby
 

So on this Labor Day 2006, let's think a bit about the basic principles of the labor movement: Solidarity - an injury to one is an injury to all. And let's remember why our government was formed: 'to promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.'Labor Day is a time to honor those who do the work and actually create the real wealth of this country: working people!

It should also be a time to reflect on what unionism is all about: Solidarity - an injury to one is an injury to all. That is the basic principle of the labor movement, the understanding that we're all in it together.

Without romanticizing the past, that understanding also used to be a fundamental value among the vast majority of Americans. It was the way we related to each other as neighbors and as co-workers. It was the basis of community.

But today that sense of community has been weakened - in fact it's under systematic attack. The core question we face as a country today is this: Are we going to recognize that we really are all in this together, and we need to support and take care of each other? Or are we going to repudiate that value and any mutual obligations and say instead it's everyone for themselves?

Jared Bernstein from the Economic Policy Institute summed it up well in a recent article, saying it's YOYO ("You're On Your Own") vs. WITT ("We're In This Together").

For years the right wing has been promoting a YOYO vision for America. The entire Bush domestic agenda is based on the YOYO principle.

YOYO underlies Bush's attempt to privatize Social Security and leave our retirement income to the mercy of the stock market.

YOYO underlies the right wing solution to our health care crisis: not universal, quality, affordable health care for all, but high-deductible policies that expect us to "shop" for the lowest-cost health care providers and that stress "personal responsibility" for our health - as if we could all become mini-doctors and could have complete control of our health!

YOYO also underlies the corporate shift from "defined benefit" guaranteed pensions to "defined contribution" pensions or 401(k)'s - which, like privatized Social Security, do not provide a guaranteed income, but an income based on how lucky we are in that grand casino called the stock market.

The fundamental goal of YOYO policy is to shift all economic risk to individuals and our families. Those currently in power call it "personal responsibility," but in reality it means we're on our own, there's no common safety net. And if our health fails or our job is outsourced and we're not rich enough to survive on our own, then that's too bad, it's our own fault. We've obviously failed in our "personal responsibility."

The union movement has a completely different philosophy. Recognizing that "we're all in this together," we want to share risks and pool our resources. So that everyone, at a minimum, has the health care they need. So that all our kids have a good public education. So that everyone has work - and that work pays a living wage. So that everyone can retire in dignity. So that we have a floor beneath which no one falls.

Combined with Bush tax policies that are shifting vast amounts of wealth from working families to the super-rich (who can afford to be on their own), YOYOism sums up the policy agenda of the Bush administration and its right wing congressional majority. These anti-worker policies are rapidly eroding the economic foundation for the middle class as well as rolling back the protections we all need by undermining everything from environmental standards to health and safety protections in the workplace.

So on this Labor Day 2006, let's think a bit about the basic principles of the labor movement: Solidarity - an injury to one is an injury to all. And let's remember why our government was formed: "... to promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity." These are precisely the principles we all need to follow in order to meet the needs of the vast majority of Americans and put America back together again.

David Newby is the president of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, the state's labor federation. 

Copyright © 2006 The Capital Times

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