Unions stand together on the frontline of freedom

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A union member holds up a sign protesting the Supreme Court’s anti-union “Janus” decision on Feb. 26, 2018 in Washington. | AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Chicago is the hometown of the American labor movement.

More historic labor events have happened here than in any other city, including the Haymarket Affair, the Pullman Strike, the Little Steel Strike and the Garment Workers Strike, to name a few.


The common thread through all these events was workers coming together to fight collectively to ensure a better life for themselves, their families and for future generations.

Since the founding of the United States, collective action has played a major role in the history of our country. As the fight for the rights of every American continues, today’s labor movement is on the frontline of freedom.

From the very beginning, unions have fought for and won battles to defend the rights of the American worker, and many have died for this cause. In the 1800s, issues included the 40-hour workweek, immigration rights, freedom of speech, the right to organize and workplace democracy. Throughout the 1900s, unions fought for child labor laws, women’s rights and equal pay, employer-sponsored health benefits, overtime pay, workplace safety and retirement security.

Today, we continue to fight for a worker’s right to form a union. We are opposed by the corporate elite, who attempt to weaken the strength of unions and to rip away all that we have achieved through collective action.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court turned its back on working families and sided with corporate billionaires with its decision in the case of “Janus v. AFSCME Council 31.” This litigation was never really about a violation of Mark Janus’ First Amendment rights. It was yet another attempt by the super-rich to deprive working people of basic rights and dismantle what unions have accomplished in this country,

But they will not succeed. Since the Supreme Court decision, we are seeing growth in union membership among public workers. The mission of organized labor is to lift all workers, union and non-union alike. Those who are joining the union fold clearly understand this and see the value of the collective bargaining power of union leaders on their behalf.

The strength of unions comes from a cooperative spirit of fairness. We bring employers, public and private alike, to the table to bargain in good faith for decent wages, affordable health benefits, safe worksites, time off to care for a loved one, dignity in retirement and more.

This is particularly true in Chicago, where workers across the spectrum of industries and occupations stand together in solidarity under the union banner. Working people are not lying down. We will continue to bring our collective strength to bear and use our voices and our votes to do what’s right.

On Labor Day, this day that recognizes and celebrates the American workforce, it is important that we rededicate ourselves to our collective cause. Active participation in union activities is one way to get involved. And on Nov. 6, it is vital that we vote for candidates who share our commitment to making life better for all people, not just the elite few.

But elections are not where our work begins or ends. Our work is really in our ability to organize, speak up and demand our place in the economy from whomever stands in our way.

Robert G. Reiter is the president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, the third largest central labor council of the national AFL-CIO. He previously served two terms as secretary-treasurer of the CFL, from July 2010 to May 2018. The Chicago Federation of Labor is a member of the investor group that owns the Chicago Sun-Times, and Reiter sits on our board of directors.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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