Asserting a Claim on Democracy

by Sec.-Treas. Lee Saunders  |  February 17, 2012

Sec.-Treas. Lee A. Saunders
Sec.-Treas. Lee A. Saunders (Photo by Luis Gomez)

In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King took his struggle for black workers and their families to Memphis, Tenn., because he understood the connection between civil rights and workers’ rights. It was there that the 1,300 sanitation workers of AFSCME Local 1733 went on strike to demand respect, fairness, and a voice in the issues that mattered to them.

The sanitation workers weren’t simply fighting for better pay and safer working conditions. When I had the privilege of representing our members at the ceremony dedicating the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial, in Washington, D.C., I spoke about how these men were asserting a claim on our democracy.

As we observe Black History Month 2012, AFSCME members from coast to coast are asserting the same claim. We are protesting the politicians’ callous disregard for struggling families and their failure to demand that the wealthiest Americans do their fair share. AFSCME members are also partnering with other groups to overturn restrictive voter laws designed to keep millions away from the polls. We’re taking part in a Main Street Movement and exercising our power through solidarity.

Many families are still experiencing the worst of George W. Bush’s recession – a recession that was deeper and lasted longer than previously thought. President Barack Obama understands the plight of those who are working two or three jobs to pay the bills.

The President’s jobs agenda would prevent nearly 300,000 teachers, firefighters and police officers from being laid off and put men and women to work modernizing public schools and rebuilding roads, bridges, airports and waterways. It would provide a tax credit that encourages businesses to hire the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, who in many cities are the hardest hit by unemployment.

Attacks on voters’ rights and the refusal of the President’s opponents in Congress to join him in creating good jobs both come from the same place: a disregard for working people, a quest to bust as many unions as possible, and a higher loyalty to the rich and well-connected. Ultimately, the goal is to push the American dream – a dream that the labor movement helped inspire – further out of the reach of families that work hard and play by the rules.

That’s why the President is standing up for good jobs, and it’s why his administration is reviewing restrictive laws that could disenfranchise as many as 5 million voters – laws that are 21st century versions of poll taxes and literacy tests.

The members of our union worked hard in 2008 to get out the vote for candidate Barack Obama. With our endorsement of the President’s re-election, we look forward to knocking on doors, phone banking, driving voters to the polls, and doing all we can to ensure the President’s victory in November. 

Next: Prison Privateer Offers to Buy Prisons from Starving States
Previous: Attacks on Worker Rights Can Be Defeated, Says Ohio AFSCME Leader

Get news & updates from AFSCME