The following is the Labor Day message of Stuart Appelbaum. Appelbaum is president of the 100,000-member Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, UFCW www.rwdsu.org
NEW YORK, Sept. 4 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- For RWDSU members and their families Labor Day 2009 comes at both the worst of times and the best of times.
The worst is obvious: After eight years of George Bush's negligence and incompetence our country is now in the midst of its greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Today, there are six workers looking for work for every job that's created. This summer, Michigan earned the dubious distinction of becoming the first state in 25 years with an unemployment rate exceeding 15 percent. Once underemployment is factored in the rate tops 20 percent!
RWDSU families there and throughout America know better than anyone what's happening to working families. While the news media has focused its attention on the auto industry, the fact is that workers in every industry - and the public sector - have been beaten to a pulp over the last two years.
While the modest gains on Wall Street have led some to say that the worst of the recession is behind us, growing stock prices cannot disguise the fact that U.S. workers today aren't living the American Dream; they're struggling to survive an American Nightmare.
Given all the misery facing Americans how can this also be the best of times? The answer is easy: We finally have a president who not only cares about workers, but who's smart enough to translate that concern into progressive action.
Since taking office in January, Barack Obama has, by any measure, become the most unabashedly pro-worker president in almost 70 years. Like Franklin Roosevelt, President Obama isn't afraid to use his power to put Americans back to work. His economic recovery program isn't only creating the jobs Americans need today, it is also laying the groundwork for a growing economy tomorrow.
But there's another way the president's commitment to working people is reminiscent of FDR's: Barack Obama believes in collective bargaining. Within days of moving into the White House, President Obama told America: "I don't see organized labor as part of the problem. "To me, it's part of the solution.''
As demonstrated by his support for the Employee Free Choice Act, the president understands that the fastest way to put dollars into Americans' pockets is by guaranteeing workers the right to organize and bargain strong union contracts.
Now, President Obama has taken on his toughest fight, yet: reforming America's health care system to guarantee quality, affordable health care for all of us. For the members of the RWDSU and other unions the necessity of health care reform is beyond question. Today, the pay raises our union negotiates routinely go to pay for higher insurance premiums
If the president succeeds in winning real health care reform, he will have earned the gratitude of every working family in America and could easily become the most effective president in our time. RWDSU members understand that, and so does the Republican Party. That's why GOP legislators have made it crystal clear that they will say and do almost anything to stop health care reform.
As we are seeing, part of the Republican strategy for killing reform is to pretend they want to reach a "compromise" with Democrats on health care. Yet, while they say they want to reach an agreement, they have also announced they will oppose any plan that includes a "public option" that would compete with the insurance companies in order to keep their prices down!
RWDSU members and the entire labor movement didn't mobilize to elect Barack Obama and Joe Biden because we wanted small policy fixes to undo some of the damage done by George Bush. We elected them because we want to change America's priorities forever. That includes winning a health care system that puts people before profit. I'm convinced that, if we stand together, we will. That's why, even as we struggle through the Bush recession, RWDSU families are hopeful this Labor Day 2009. How could we not be? After all, the best of times may be right around the corner.
SOURCE Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union