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Are You Brave Enough to Stand Up for Better Pay?

As Thanksgiving approaches, I feel grateful for all the brave men and women who have been a part of our labor movement and continue to fight for basic human rights…a living wage, a safe working environment, comprehensive health care and retirement with dignity.

Why People Choose Jobs

People are drawn to work for a variety of reasons, but let’s face it; one of the main reasons is money. We need to earn money to live, to pay for a roof over our head, to put food on the table, to have clothes to wear.

Those are just the basics. Beyond that, we need money for education and transportation and health care. Not to mention vacation.

Quadruple that income if you’re raising a family.

So it’s no surprise to me that many young people continue to be drawn to careers such as teaching and fire fighting, transportation, nursing and construction…all heavily unionized professions.  These jobs offer stability, long-term financial security and the promise of a middle-class lifestyle.

Brave New York Shirtwaist workers break for lunch during 1911 strike in aftermath of Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.

Brave New York Shirtwaist workers break for lunch during 1911 strike in aftermath of Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.

A Brave History

Ironically, most newcomers to the world of employment lack an appreciation for the people who have sacrificed to create area standards for their chosen profession, wages and benefits equal to those that a union established for a region through collective bargaining.

You see, labor history is an elective at most colleges (if they offer it at all.)

When students do take this course, they learn that labor union members, while not completely fearless, often act with courage. They gather strength from each other and take bold stands.

Our parents and grandparents built the American middle class. Their hard work made companies profitable, and unions made sure that workers shared in America’s success.

Today’s Labor Heroes

When CEOs write the rules, they walk away with millions of dollars in compensation. Their workers, on the other hand, wonder how they’re going to feed their families.

Consider the $7.25 an hour fast-food workers across the nation daring to rise against multi-billion dollar corporations for the right to earn $15 an hour, without the benefit of a contract or union.

Or the heroic Wal-Mart workers who were fired for demanding better pay.

Or the gutsy broadcast technicians who walked out on a job because the employer refused to pay their health insurance and pension contributions…even with a signed contract. (Guess what…he paid when the techs stood up for their rights.)

When workers stand together and bargain for fair wages and decent benefits, our middle class grows stronger.

Without these labor activists and the generations who came before them, we might yet be working 12 hours a day with no overtime pay, no weekends and no vacation.

Heck, we might even be working on Thanksgiving Day. Did I just hear that some stores were open on Thanksgiving this year?

Brothers and sisters, be brave. There is still much work to do.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Next Links

Who Will Lead Tomorrow’s Labor Movement?

How to Grow Your Union Membership

Is Labor Day Relevant?

About the Author:
FX Crowley is a Public Affairs and Labor Relations Specialist, and former 15-year Business Manager of IATSE Local 16, San Francisco. A third-generation San Franciscan, FX can break down any football game from Pop Warner to the Pros and analyze it for hours. Contact to learn more ››