August 12, 2009
Crisis and Opportunity, by By Stewart Acuff (Special Assistant to the President, AFL-CIO), August 11, 2009
Posted August 11, 2009 USW Blog
The dog days of August have arrive, Washington has mostly cleared out and neither health care reform nor the Employee Free Choice Act have been passed. The Republicans, the Hard Right, and Corporate America are doing all they can to defeat them both. And they are being more than ably assisted by a small group of moderate Democratic Senators who for some reason think the status quo is just fine that having 50 million Americans without health care is OK and that more people should continue to work harder and longer for less and less, that growing poverty is OK, and that corporations should get all the benefits of our work.
The chattering class and punditocracy are clucking their tongues, wrinkling their brows to look smart, and aping Rush and Grover and others that now is not the time. The economy is too fragile for real change. They are discussing what the Senate will do to both health care reform and the Employee Free Choice Act.
Our nation did not become great because generation after generation of Americans feared change. Our country did not become great because Americans refused to face the country’s challenges and ignored their responsibilities.
We are at an historic moment in American history. We have a huge economic crisis which has caused untold suffering and a decline in the standard of living and quality of life for the majority of Americans with take home pay less than in 1973 and more families working more hours to try to stay afloat. Our health care system is designed to make insurance companies and others vastly wealthy at the expense of the American people. We get less value for every health care dollar spent than anywhere else in the world. We already have at least four highly functioning popular public health care delivery systems but we’re told we can’t have a public plan in health care reform because that would be turning health care over to the government or socialism.
So we are at an incredibly important moment in American history. We can take advantage of the opportunities we have a President and Congress which essentially share progressive values to push through the kind of change that changes the quality of people’s lives and puts America on the right track to an economy that works for all, that values work and respects workers, an America that knows that what is good for workers is good for America or we can sit back and squander the moment, refuse our duty and responsibility and make believe someone else can do it.
Every generation in American history faced the same kind of challenges and opportunities that we face. And those generations which understood collective power moved the country forward toward a more perfect union:
The mechanics in the Philadelphia guilds with Tom Paine and the worker organizations in Boston with Sam Adams who laid the groundwork for our independence and provided the troops.
The abolitionists with Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison who built a movement to end slavery that led to the greatest freedom struggle in our hsitory at the cost of 600,000 lives.
The women’s suffragists with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony who won the right for women to vote and forever changed our politics.
The populists and progressives who mounted an aggressive and effective campaign against unfettered, unregulated monopoly capitalism.
Our forebears in labor who ended poverty for millions of workers and created the middle class and the American Dream.
The modern civil rights movement which ended legal peonage, enfranchised millions of Black Americans and unleashed a movement and passion for social justice.
So it is now our time. It is time we understand the dynamics of power,use our opportunities to develop more power and mobilize to wield that power to win the kind of change that changes thw quality of people’s lives, that will turn around America.
Our forebears understood that power is how we get things done, change things, make things happen, make change and the only power available to us workers is collecting power.
We build our power by organizing.
We exercise our power by mobilization
We leverage our power through coalitions.
So now it is our time and our opportunity to build and exercise our power to change America. This is organizing to build worker power so that we are not waiting on politicians in Washington to deliver change. We are mobilizing workers to create change from the ground up.
We will never again in this generation get this kind of opportunity and if we fail to take advantage, our labor movement will fail and our country will be unrecognizable. Our children and grandchildren will lose any access to the American Dream. The stakes could hardly be higher. Time to fight.<–>
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