Workers Memorial Day Reminds Us Why We Need Unions and Worker Safety Laws
The voice of history, the subject I taught in a community college for two dozen years, could hardly be louder or clearer when it comes to unions and to worker safety and health laws.
We need them both.
In an ideal world, everybody would live by the Golden Rule, some form of which can be found in just about every religion. But we live in a real world where greed is the gospel of many employers.
If many bosses had their way, we wouldn’t have unions or worker safety and health laws. For a long time, we didn’t have either in the United States. Not until the 1930s did a Democratic-majority New Deal Congress pass legislation giving workers the right to bargain collectively and requiring their employers to recognize unions.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat, signed the legislation into law.
Not until 1970 did Congress create the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The landmark bill passed with bipartisan support. Even Republican President Richard Nixon, who was less than labor-friendly, hailed the bill.
Hogs will fly and kids will stop shooting hoops in my native Kentucky before the current Republican president and his GOP-majority Congress would approve anything close to the Occupational Safety and Health Act that created OSHA.
OSHA was needed because many, if not most, state and local worker safety and health laws were inadequate or were not rigorously enforced.
Before strong unions and meaningful protection for worker safety and health, most workers toiled long hours at low pay in jobs that threatened—and often claimed—life and limb.
This month marked the 100th anniversary of United States’ entry into World War I, the bloodiest conflict in history to that point.
The war—called the Great War before World War II—started in 1914, when some 35,000 U.S. workers were killed in industrial accidents, according to historian Howard Zinn. That death toll equals two-thirds of all U.S. battle deaths in the war, which ended in November 1918.
A century ago, railroads, mines and factories were slaughterhouses. Many children were among the dead. Child labor was widespread in American industry. Adults were so poorly paid that boys and girls as young as 10 had to go to work to help their parents make ends meet.
Industrialists praised child labor as a godsend. They claimed work taught children responsibility and kept them off the streets and out of trouble. Also, mine and factory owners saw a practical side to child labor. They could pay children less than grown-ups.
Many industrialists bragged about how often they went to church. Some said God gave them their money. Christian "Captains of Industry" hated Charles Darwin’s scientific theory of evolution. But they loved Social Darwinism, a philosophy which claimed that business works like nature.
It was "survival of the fittest" in both, Social Darwinists said. There was nothing anybody could do—or should do—about it, they added. Hence, Social Darwinists argued that unions and worker safety and health laws should be opposed because they interfered with the "natural operation" of the "free market." One Social Darwinist said such laws were a waste because they only protected "those of the lowest development."
With Social Darwinism, millionaires didn’t have to worry about workers losing a leg, an arm, an eye or their lives on the job. Social Darwinists said workers were inferior beings; otherwise they would be millionaires. Besides, worker safety and health laws would cost the millionaire industrialists a few bucks.
Social Darwinist millionaires had friends in high places. The plutocrats bankrolled politicians to bust unions and to keep worker safety and health laws off the books or to ensure such laws were toothless.
Sound familiar? How many union-despising politicians enjoy the largess of rich reactionaries today?
Here are a few, all of them well-heeled enough to afford store-bought: President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton, Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers and Kentucky House Speaker Jeff Hoover.
Anyway, while employers and their puppet politicians are still fighting organized labor and government safety and health regulations, a lot of the media is still cheerleading for American business and industry.
Not so long ago, right-wing newspapers editorialists smeared unions as "un-American" and "communist." They slammed union leaders as "labor bosses" and rank-and-filers as "union thugs."
Since the demise of the "Evil Empire," uber-conservative editorial writers and TV and radio bloviators mostly stop as "socialist." But they still trot out "union bosses" and "union thugs."
History teaches that employers, helped by their bought-and-paid for politicians and a sympathetic media, ensured that a strong union movement and something like OSHA would be a longtime coming. But come they both did.
Since 1989, unions have been observing April 28 as Workers Memorial Day because OSHA was born on April 28. OSHA did much to improve worker safety and health for all workers, not just union members.
But if the Tea Party-tilting reactionaries who run the GOP these days had their way, unions and OSHA would disappear. When Republicans extol "free enterprise," they mean free of unions and free of laws that safeguard workers on the job.
When we pause this Workers Memorial Day to remember those who lost their lives on the job, let’s remember the words of one of the greatest union heroes from history—Mary Harris "Mother" Jones: "Mourn the dead; fight like hell for the living!"
This is a guest post from Berry Craig, who is a lifelong Kentuckian, webmaster-editor for the Kentucky State AFL-CIO and a member of the state AFL-CIO Executive Board. It originally appeared at the Kentucky State AFL-CIO.Kenneth Quinnell
Fri, 04/28/2017 - 10:55
OSHA— Apr 28
Mourn for the Dead, Fight Like Hell for the Living
Today, on Workers Memorial Day, people all over the world remember workers who were killed, injured or made sick by their jobs. It's also a day we commit to fighting for safer working conditions. Most importantly, it is the day we remind ourselves that safe jobs are every worker’s right.
In the United States, 150 workers die each day from job injuries and diseases and millions more suffer serious injuries because of their work. But no person should have to sacrifice his or her life and livelihood for a paycheck. This is why communities hold vigils, rallies, marches and other events to mourn the loss of loved ones and rally for stronger safety and health job protections.
Find a Workers Memorial Day event near you.
In 2015, 4,836 workers died from traumatic injuries such as those related to falls, machines and fires. At least another 50,000–60,000 workers died from occupational diseases that are caused by chemicals, dusts, fumes and other toxic agents. Commonsense safeguards would have prevented these deaths, but winning these protections for workers is incredibly challenging. Big Business continues to attack any gain for working people.
Read about the state of workplace safety and health in the 2017 edition of the AFL-CIO Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect report.
Working people and their unions have won stronger safety and health protections. Most recently, unions celebrated the release of the final OSHA silica standard, the final OSHA beryllium standard, new safeguards to protect construction workers in confined spaces and from cranes and derricks, stronger protections for workers who report injuries to OSHA, several new mine safety rules, and many more. Since January, the Trump administration already has begun rolling back these protections, and has threatened to remove many more and prevent new safeguards from ever being issued. Recently, Republican leaders in Congress have threatened to remove important protections for first responders.
Unions fought for laws that protect hardworking people in the United States over the corporations that profit from the labor. Under these laws:
Workers have the right to refuse unsafe work, without fear of retaliation.
Workers have the right to report unsafe working conditions, without fear of retaliation.
Workers have the right to report work-related injuries and illnesses, without fear of retaliation.
Employers are required to make sure workplaces are free from hazards.
We will continue to fight for stronger safety and health protections, but this year we also are defending new attacks on workers’ rights. And we will keep pushing forward. There is much more work to be done to prevent people from becoming sick or injured or being killed on the job.
On Workers Memorial Day, we remember all working people who have lost their lives, have been maimed or are fighting chronic disease because of the work they do. We join together to mourn for the dead and fight for the living. "Working people should not have to risk their lives to make a living and support their families," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
Safe jobs are every worker’s right.
Find more information on Workers Memorial Day and the digital toolkit with infographics from the report.
Fri, 04/28/2017 - 10:29— Apr 28
Get Ready for a Month of Labor Cultural Events at DC LaborFest
From its semi-humble beginnings 17 years ago as a weekend film festival focusing on labor-related movies, the DC LaborFest has grown, diversified and blossomed into a monthlong cultural event. The 2017 lineup, which kicks off Monday, includes 22 films, 17 labor tours, walks, bike rides, cultural tours and—new this year—a union beer and whiskey tasting, sponsored by Labor 411.
"It’s an interesting demographic," said Chris Garlock, the festival’s director and founder. "There are some folks who are really into music, some who are really into films and some folks who are really into soccer. I’m getting requests from people who want to do a union wine tasting, so I guess we’ll be talking about that for 2018. It’s kind of cool to find new and different audiences for different things."
With a few days to go before a month of events, kicked off with a May Day screening of the James Franco-directed film "In Dubious Battle," Labor 411 chatted with Garlock on all things DC LaborFest.
Q: Where did the idea for this film festival come from? How did it originate?Chris Garlock: I’m from Rochester, New York, where my dad and I ran the Rochester Labor Film Series (which is now celebrating its 28th year). My dad brought [union leader] Tony Mazzocchi up to Rochester for a screening of "Silkwood," and Tony came back all excited. My dad told him, "Well, Chris works for the Metropolitan Washington [D.C.] Council. You should talk to him." Tony was a force of nature, so with his vision, organized by me and Katherine Isaac and the full support of Metropolitan Washington Council President Jos Williams, we were able to pull the first film fest together in just a few months.
Q: Can you talk about the growth of the festival over the 17 years of its existence? CG: Oh my goodness, a couple of things. We have partnered up with American Film Institute from the beginning and it’s just grown and grown over the years. The main festival is at AFI, which has a beautiful three-screen theater in Silver Spring, and we’ve expanded, so we do a whole free film noon time series at the AFL-CIO on Fridays. At various times we’ve done screenings at different international unions. We co-hosted a Whistleblower Film Festival for a couple of years. There’s a DC Immigration Film Festival that we helped to start. It was a separate film festival for a few years, and we’re kind of absorbing it back in this year.
Q: One doesn’t typically find the breadth of offerings of DC LaborFest in a standard film festival. How did that variety develop for the DC LaborFest?CG: About four years ago, we made the jump and we’ve never looked back. We went from having just a film festival to adding music events, theater, a labor soccer game, labor history walking tours, labor history biking tours, basically any sort of labor-ific cultural event that people could come up with and sounded like somebody might be interested in. We have had some great partners—including Labor 411, of course, and I have to mention American Income Life, which has been our prime sponsor from the beginning.
Q: What are some of the film highlights of this year’s lineup?CG: The big one, of course, is the May 16 screening of "Matewan," and director John Sayles is going to be here. It’s the 30th anniversary of the film so we’re very excited about that, and he’s a personal hero of mine. We’re opening on May 1 with "In Dubious Battle," directed by James Franco, from a book by John Steinbeck, and that’s a book about California migrant workers that is very much in tune with all of the immigration demonstrations going on that day.
We have two films about [the anarchists] Sacco and Vanzetti and this is the 70th anniversary of their execution, so that’s very appropriate. This year, for the first time, we will be having labor tours of four different museums in town. It’s going to be a really great opportunity to see some really amazing art work or artifacts about work and workers. And then, of course, there’s our union beer and whiskey tasting with Labor 411. Those tickets are going like hot cakes.
Q: Now that the DC LaborFest is 17 years running, does the festival’s reputation open certain doors that might not have opened in early years?CG: There are only a few dozen labor film festivals in the world, and we’re one of the largest and oldest. By virtue of our being in Washington, D.C., and our connection with the AFL-CIO and all the other unions, it definitely opens a lot of doors and I think people take it more seriously.
Q: How about your audience? Is it a mixture of union workers and film fans?CG: Absolutely. I do mobilization and communication for the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO, and my whole argument for why we should do the film festival and then expand it to the LaborFest was because it mobilizes and communicates. We do lots of rallies and picket lines on a weekly, if not daily, basis in town, but those tend to be more for people who are in the movement or sometimes for people who are just in a particular local. At a screening at AFI, you’ll look out at the audience and more than half the audience will be people who are there because they want to see the film. Film is a very accessible medium, so it brings in the general public. It brings in union members who might not be so involved, and it’s a real opportunity for folks to get together and socialize in a way that’s not just on the picket line or at a rally or at a union meeting.
Q: Can you recount some great events from past festivals?CG: The first year, we showed "Live Nude Girls Unite" which is a great film about dancers at the Lusty Lady organizing. Again, that was a chance to reach a different kind of audience. We have given out our Labor Arts Award both to Jane Fonda—who came here for "9 to 5"—and Barbara Kopple, who has done a number of great labor films. Ramin Bahrani, who has become a really big filmmaker…we’ve shown almost all of his films here, and I remember when he was a young, aspiring filmmaker. For him to screen at DC LaborFest was a big deal at the time.
There are a lot of great films out there about work and workers, and we don’t just show the usual documentaries that people expect us to show. We have shown romantic comedies that have a labor angle, science fiction films, children’s films. We really want to be able to have a whole variety of stuff.
Q: Any last words?CG: The labor film poster collection is in the AFL-CIO lobby now. It’s gorgeous and it’s free, and people can drop by and enjoy it anytime they want. The big poster out front is "Matewan."
For more information, visit dclabor.org/dc-laborfest.html.
Thu, 04/27/2017 - 15:42— Apr 27
IUPAT Members Take a Day to Give Back
On April 22, more than 2,000 members of the Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) across the United States and Canada put their hearts and skills to work for their neighbors to honor the union’s second annual IUPAT Community Day of Action.
With materials donated by the IUPAT, union employers and industry partners, volunteers teamed with community groups to clean up, paint, and replace the windows of churches, schools and community centers across North America. IUPAT volunteers also worked with a number of organizations to collect food and to cook for and feed those in need.
The goal of the Community Day of Action is to show the world that the members of the IUPAT and the rest of the labor movement are more than advocates for fair wages, rights and benefits on the job. They are good neighbors who have a long tradition of building up their communities. The IUPAT Community Day of Action is yet one more example of how organized labor is a positive force for working families—both union and nonunion.
IUPAT General President Kenneth Rigmaiden said:
It is our hope that the work we have done today, coast to coast in the United States and Canada, will inspire others to do their part for our communities. I'm proud of our members who have dedicated their time, their skills and their hearts to such worthy causes, and I truly believe that we made a difference. It shows just how much a united group of volunteers can accomplish in one day. My thanks to our community partners for helping us make our second annual Community Day of Action a success.
It was a great day (that's not over yet) where one union made a difference across North America in just one day!
The Painters and Allied Trades represents men and women in the United States and Canada who work in the finishing trades—commercial and industrial painting, drywall finishing, glazing and glass work, sign and display, and floor covering installation, among other crafts. Learn more about the IUPAT at IUPAT.org and follow us on Twitter @GoIUPAT.Kenneth Quinnell
Thu, 04/27/2017 - 13:55
Community Service— Apr 27
Call Now to Oppose the Harmful New Republican Health Care Plan
Public opposition to Republican plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act has been overwhelming. Americans have flocked to town halls across the country to speak out against these plans. Poll after poll shows that Americans don't want their health care taken away by Republicans who know that their own legislation is so bad that they are trying to exempt themselves from it. They claim they have a new plan, but the new one is even worse than the old plan.
The latest version of the Republican health care repeal plan will:
Gut protections for people with pre-existing conditions by eliminating the Affordable Care Act’s guarantee of affordable coverage, allowing insurance companies to charge some people as much as they want.
Eliminate the guarantee that insurance companies cover maternity care, cancer treatments and substance abuse care.
Give away nearly $600 billion in tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, including nearly $200,000 each in a single year for the wealthiest 0.1% of Americans.
Increase out-of-pocket premiums for older Americans by as much as $12,900 and allow health insurance companies to charge older Americans five times what they charge younger people—effectively establishing an "age tax."
Slash Medicaid by $839 billion and end the program as we know it, leading to the rationing of care for children, seniors and people with disabilities.
End Medicaid expansion, meaning 11 million working families, children, people with disabilities, hardworking families and seniors would have lost their insurance.
Subsidize tax cuts for the wealthy by maintaining a scheduled 40% tax on the health benefits of millions of working families.
Eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, putting care for 2.5 million patients nationwide at risk.
Disproportionately hurt Americans living in rural areas and in some cases it would have caused a consumer’s plan to exceed their annual income.
Call your representative today at 866-829-3298 and tell them to vote NO on this desperate attempt by the GOP to make health care worse for Americans while enriching the few.
Thu, 04/27/2017 - 13:20
Affordable Care Act— Apr 27