The labor movement and the 2014 elections

Stuart Appelbaum | 11/20/2014, 2:25 p.m.

The results of this year’s elections throughout the country were not what we in the labor movement had hoped for. There’s no sugarcoating that reality.

And yet, I remain optimistic, maybe more so than ever before. The Democratic Party didn’t create the labor movement, and what we need to do today is no different than before the elections.

Working people are under siege like never before. The labor movement as a whole is shrinking.

We live in a time defined by obscene wealth and growing ranks of working poor Americans, increasingly concentrated power and indifference to the disenfranchised. The nation’s wealth is being redirected from working and middle-income families to the pockets of a small group of millionaires and billionaires.

Just look at the Walton family, which owns much of Wal-Mart. This one family—six individuals—owns as much wealth as 130 million Americans combined.

The only response to this rampant inequality is for working people to come together with a collective voice, to take collective action and to form new alliances that build stronger coalitions in our communities. That’s what the labor movement going forward must be about. We have to continue to fight. We have no other choice.

Unions are as relevant and necessary today as at any time in our history. Laws alone can’t protect us, and well-meaning elected officials can only do so much. It has been and will always be about power, about organizing people workplace by workplace and community by community into a national movement.

And if working people are denied the power that strong unions provide, we will always be relegated to bickering over the crumbs that fall from the masters’ tables. This situation cannot be the legacy that we leave.

So I am confident—even optimistic—that we are poised to come out swinging. Because our strength draws from a deep well of moral conviction, our beliefs and values inform what we do, and together we all serve a greater purpose.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best: “The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress.”

We in labor are the people King spoke about. We are the ones who stand up against injustice, fight for the weak, give voice to the voiceless and offer hope to those who would despair. We have the guts, we have the courage and we have the strength to make a difference.

Join us.

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