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A Special Message from President Hill:
Honoring Labor Day’s Heroes


August 29, 2014

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Members of Rockford, Ill., Local 364 proudly display models of wind turbines in Labor Day parade.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user Steeleman204

Labor Day came on the heels of bloody struggle. The U.S. Congress only designated the first Monday in September as a national holiday after two workers were killed by U.S. marshals during the Pullman Strike of 1894. Four thousand workers at Pullman’s railroad car manufacturing plant near Chicago had gone on strike to protest wage cuts.


As with other holidays, North American observations of Labor Day have traveled far afield from the original commemoration of the holiday and its counterpart, Labour Day in Canada. Holiday sales and family picnics typify our celebrations.

But, in some towns and cities, workers and unions, including the IBEW, still march in contingents celebrating their contributions to the economic vitality, health and welfare of their communities.

And, while the context is less bloody than in 1894, the nation is once again focusing on what role workers’ wages play in a fair and prosperous economy.

Employers have benefited from huge productivity increases in every sector of our economy. But wages have flattened or fallen, even while the stock market and the personal fortunes of the 1 percent have risen. The reduced buying power of workers blocks a sustained economic recovery.

The best way for workers to win wage increases is through collective bargaining.

That makes it all the more outrageous this Labor Day that politicians are running for public office pledging to block any legislation to raise the minimum wage, while also seeking legislation that would make it harder for unions to organize.

Too many of our own members are still out of work. But some of those same politicians have steadily opposed any legislation to rebuild our nations’ decaying infrastructure, at the same time neglecting the necessity to tap the skills and training of the building trades and open up apprenticeships for the next generation.

The good news this Labor Day is that labor organizations and our allies in the progressive movement are refusing to give in to demoralization and fear.

In the IBEW, locals have deployed proactive strategies to keep our signatory contractors competitive and win new large-scale projects to put unemployed members back on the job.

Organizers have branched out, expanding the Brotherhood’s reach to workers like satellite technicians employed by NASA in Mississippi and tool makers in Illinois.

Repudiating political attacks on public sector workers, the IBEW has won municipal worker campaigns in California and other states.

This Labor Day, the IBEW and our allies are looking forward, not backward. Experimentation and creativity are proving their worth. New groups of workers are organizing--from college athletes, to fast food servers, to car wash attendants and big box store clerks, reaching out to customers, communities and shareholders for support.

Even in the face of bitter losses, like the UAW’s defeat at Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tenn., unions are reaching back into our toolboxes testing new tactics like non-majority unions.

The high-rolling corporate lobbyists who colonize our nation’s capital will never give up trying to weaken any effort to vest more power in the hands of average workers. But, even there, some victories have been won.

Over the past year, unions have won some important trade cases, protecting domestic workers from predatory competition from overseas.

Massive public pressure helped to influence the Obama administration to appoint a new chairman of the board of governors of the Federal Reserve who understands the need to support workers and invest in shared prosperity.

And, for the first time in 20 years, 70 organizations came together to draw attention to the bank’s upcoming meeting. They demanded the powerful Federal Reserve use its economic clout to stimulate investment in our nation’s infrastructure and reject the calls of the 1 percent to raise interest rates and slow the economy down.

Our challenges are many. All of our progress will be threatened if the wrong candidates are elected in midterm contests this November.

Brothers and sisters, we simply can’t afford to sit home and fail to support the best candidates for working families in November.

Grassroots activism and a high union voter turnout are still among the best tools to defeat those big-money political contributors who measure progress by how low workers’ wages are and how small a voice we have on the job.

As we celebrate this Labor Day with our families, let’s pause to remember the sacrifices of those the holiday commemorates.

And let’s honor their sacrifices with our own commitment to do what we can to improve the lot of all who labor.