A New Direction


1-09-08, 9:23 am

It seems like yesterday that 15,000 working family voters crowded into Chicago’s Soldier Field to ask questions and hear what the seven major Democratic presidential candidates had to say about jobs, health care, workers’ rights, the war in Iraq and more.

At the AFL-CIO presidential forum in August, retired United Steelworkers member Steve Skvara wanted to know: “What’s wrong with America, and what will you do to change it?”

Since that time, his call for change has become a rallying cry.

Working families are fed up with the direction the Bush administration has taken the country.

Voters are desperate for new leadership--63 percent of Americans think we’re headed in the wrong direction.

They’ve been taking this passion to the polls. A record turnout at the Iowa caucuses showed just how determined voters are to take our country down a different path. And most signs point to a record turnout today in New Hampshire.

The energy we’re seeing represents an emphatic, exhilarating rejection of the Bush agenda.

Last year, working families came out in huge numbers on Election Day to volunteer in Virginia, Kentucky, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and elsewhere. The reason? Like Steve Skvara, they want life to be better for working families.

And last March, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill meant to level the playing field and allow workers the freedom to form unions without management intimidation, threats and harassment. Unfortunately for America’s working families, they will have to wait because anti-worker Republican senators were able to block the bill, even though a bipartisan majority passed the Senate legislation.

The energy’s been building for some time now, as 2007 became an important year for the labor movement.

Congress gave a raise to 13 million of our lowest-paid workers by passing the first increase in the federal minimum wage in a decade—up to $7.25 from $5.15 an hour. On New Year's Day, workers in 14 states saw a pay boost starting with their first checks of 2008.

Millions more students and families can now afford college because Congress passed the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, making higher education affordable for every qualified student who wants to attend.

And many workers successfully organized their workplaces in 2007. Despite the best efforts of some employers to bust organization efforts, teachers, nurses, bus drivers, child care workers, casino dealers, analysts in the Government Accountability Office and many more workers fought back and won their right to form unions. It was a good year, but we need to keep looking to the future. Together, we can make sure that in America, no one goes without health care. Together, we can create a country with an economy that works for all.

Together, we can ensure no worker's rights are trampled when he or she tries to join a union to win a better life.

Together, we can accomplish so much, but only if we get involved and work hard until November, when we have the chance to make sure our president and Congress fight for working families.

If we continue to fight, we can make 2008 an historic year of change.

In solidarity,

John Sweeney President, AFL-CIO