Stewart Acuff

Sep 3

Labor Day

Congratulations! Huge congratulations! Organized labor’s time to celebrate our values, our principles, our victories, and to mourn our casualties is here.

And it is time to prepare for one of the greatest struggles of our generation and of our movement.

Labor Day – the fact that there is a Labor Day – is the result of huge, bloody strikes and confrontations between working people and their bosses and corporations.

America’s labor history is the bloodiest, with the most deaths of any country in the developed world. Workers in America marched and demonstrated and struck for decades for the right to work an eight hour day and the right to freely form unions. They acted under many banners including the Knights of Labor, the IWW, the United Mineworkers, the American Railway Union, the AFL, the CIO, and many others.

But regardless of banner or label workers in America from before the Revolutionary War struggled against huge odds to be treated as many men and women and not as slaves or machinery.

You would think with America’s Constitutional commitment to freedom and liberty that human beings wouldn’t have to give their lives year after year, decade after decade, generation after generation, but the rights we enjoy were won with blood.

The names of the struggles themselves call us to mourn the casualties and celebrate the heroes: the War for Independence, the Civil War at the cost of 600,000, Homestead Steel Strike with 50 killed, Ludlow with women and children burned to death by the Colorado National Guard, the sit down strikes, the Battle of the Overpass, the Little Steel Strike and the murder of 12 strikers at Republic Steel, the heroic struggle of farmworkers and the slow starvation death of Cesar Chavez, the modern civil rights movement and the deaths of Chaney, Schwener and Goodman in Philadelphia, Miss, the murder of James Meredith and Viola Liuzzo on Highway 80 between Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, the bitter but successful sanitation strike in Memphis that was ultimately won at the cost of Dr. King’s life.

Those deaths and struggles and thousands more brought huge victories that changed America, and kept our country moving forward toward a more perfect union in spite of the Tories and the secessionists, and the financial elite and corporations and haters and all the Rush Limbaughs and Koch Brothers and Karl Roves of their times.

They were vigilant and prepared to fight for future generations, human dignity, equal rights, and fundamental justice.

Now it is our turn. Powerful forces want to take back those victories. They want to destroy unions and end any right to organize, Walmart has already pissed on the 8 hour day, Gov Jan Brewer of Arizona Sheriff Arpaio or Maricopa County have already abrogated the rights of Latino people, as many as 17 Republican governors and state legislatures are working to destroy unions in their state by doing away with building trades Project Labor Agreements and prevailing wage laws and outlawing public unions and blaming every ill of our society on some of our nation’s hardest working professionals, teachers.

The very same crew of wrong doers want to destroy our democracy, too, to take away any voice for us. The Supreme Court has already said corporations are people and money is voice so that our voices right now are being swamped. Republican legislature after legislature is doing all it can to deny people the vote.

This is real and it is happening now. It is time for all of us and each of us to join this struggle for the fundamental promise of democracy – liberty for all.


Stewart Acuff is America’s best-known and foremost labor organizer. He is the former organizing Director of the AFL-CIO. Acuff has also written two books: Playing Bigger Than You Are: A Life in Organizing, and Getting America Back to Work, coauthored by Dr. Richard Levins.

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