by Bob Geary
The Democratic National Convention doesn't kick off officially until tomorrow. But the all-but-official start day is today, Labor Day, as thousands of delegates, media types, activists and interested citizens pour into Charlotte.
I was here yesterday for the March on Wall Street South, a demonstration and march by about 1,000 of our progressive friends from around the country, some (most?) but not all of whom will be voting for Obama in November and prefer the Democratic Party to the Republican Party, though in a lot of cases not by much. I'll be writing about it for the Indy this week. Short preview: The American political system is corrupt to the core (was the dominant theme) ... dominated by the wealthy and corporate cash ... and beholden to corporate interests whose time horizon for the planet is, make money now, leave the worries about despoiling to whoever's left behind when they sail off to the Cayman Islands on their yachts.
Today, though, I caught up with MaryBe McMillan, secretary-treasurer of the North Carolina AFL-CIO, who will be one of the speakers later on at CarolinaFest. (Featured performer: James Taylor.) McMillan is a standout in the labor movement. When I asked her what she'd like the world to be thinking about on Labor Day, she was off and running.
Americans should stop thinking about working people as a "cost" to be minimized, McMillan said. We need to recognize labor as a valuable asset — an asset whose health is vital to the health of the American middle-class.
"Workers are tired of being second-class citizens," she said. "The real message we’re trying to convey is that if anybody built this country, it’s the American worker. We built it, and we deserve a fair share of the fruits of our labor. We are the job creators."
Perfect. The Republicans have erected a fictional story about Barack Obama's "You didn't built that" remark — Obama was saying that business owners certainly built their businesses, but they didn't built the roads and schools and strong public systems that allow a business to flourish in America — they didn't built THAT.
But wait. McMillan wants it understood that the business owner had help from labor — THEY built the schools and the roads and, indeed, THEY helped build the business as the owner's employees.
What's organized labor's number-one objective? I asked.
McMillan said it's the same as everyone else's: Get the country working again. "We want to see more good jobs created, and see this economy get back on track. And to do that, workers have to be the centerpiece. You have to have good jobs, not Walmart jobs. Jobs that pay good wages."
Beyond that, federal labor laws needed to be updated so that workers' rights to organize and bargain collectively are strengthened. Right now, McMillan said, the union-busters have too much clout.
The whole point, McMillan said, is that the economy will stand or fall on the ability of working people to earn a living wage and contribute both as people who build things and as consumers who buy them.
"Instead of politicians saying what’s good for business is good for everybody, they should be saying that what’s good for workers is good for business. Because when workers do well, we all do well," she said.
The Democratic Party needs to make the case, she went on:
" ... and it’s a strong case to be made, that workers not only make the products and provide the services we depend on, we’re the consumers who shop at stores, we’re the taxpayers who provide the revenue, we’re the job creators.
And it’s important to see how the world of work connects all of us. I teach your kids, you fix my car; you build my house, I shop at your store. It really is workers who should be at the center of our economy and of our economic thinking. Instead of trickle-down, let’s build the economy from the bottom up. Not on the backs of the workers, but in partnership with them."
One more point, since I brought up the fact that so many of the marchers yesterday were grudging at best about Obama and the Democrats. McMillan said they're forgetting about the success of Obama's stimulus measures and the Affordable Care Act, which guarantees every American access to health care at a reasonable cost.
I don’t understand saying there’s no difference between the two parties. I can understand the frustration with both parties that they haven’t done enough to talk about workers' rights and to promote the workers’ right to organize and collectively bargain.
But you can look at the platforms and see clearly which party supports unions and workers, and which one stands for the rich and the elite.