On Labor Day we honor America’s working families. These families build our country, serving as the engine that keeps our country on its path toward a just, sustainable democracy. But in 2014, we urge that Labor Day also be a Moral Monday.
The people of North Carolina have established Moral Monday protests as a powerful tool for coming together to convey their demands to their General Assembly, and in doing so, they have introduced many to the power of collective action. We urge the nation to take up that mantle.
While our country celebrates workers today, poor and working families are under attack the other 364 days of the year. Wages remain at poverty levels as corporate profits skyrocket. The average CEO makes 774 times more than a minimum wage worker and 331 times more than the average employee. Corporations have turned to temporary and minimum wage workers to silence their employees’ voices. States, counties and cities across the nation are dismantling collective bargaining and other rights that would give workers the chance to challenge these regressive trends.
Today we live in a political climate that treats people as disposable things, and corporations as people. Although Wall Street has moved past the Great Recession, most of us are still struggling to make ends meet. In the richest nation in the history of the world, people who work 40 hours each week should be able to put food on their tables and take their children to the doctor.
But the extremists haven’t stopped with labor rights. We know that the same people attacking workers are attacking the pillars of justice in America, ranging from our sacred right to vote to our birthright of public education. Meanwhile, they are privatizing schools and prisons, polluting the environment, attacking LGBTQ and women’s rights, racializing the criminal-justice system, and denying the American dream to immigrants and their children.
Their agenda amounts to a sinister form of “Grand Theft Democracy.” And when officials at any level try to roll back our human rights, it is constitutionally inconsistent, morally indefensible, historically insensitive and economically insane.
Labor Day has always had a patriotic and economic message. But we believe that everything that has ever changed America and the world for the better has inherently carried a moral message, too. The long fight for labor rights, voting rights, educational equality and quality health care for all is not a partisan struggle. It is a moral fight for the soul of the nation.
We are calling for people to organize by building on the most sacred values of our faith traditions. Isaiah 10:1-2 is as clear as the bell of freedom: “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees; to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.”
In turn, our nation’s founding documents demand that we establish justice and commit to the ideal that all men and women are created equal and should be treated as such, whether by their government or in their workplace.
There is a way forward.
Fifty-one years ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proposed a stimulus plan that would work from the bottom up, not from the banker down. He called for a massive reconstruction of America’s economic architecture. But King knew that such an undertaking would succeed only if it mobilized a broad and inclusive coalition of black people, poor and progressive white people, and working-class folks from every corner. In words that still ring true today, King said, “If the Negro wins, labor wins.”
In North Carolina, we have seen throughout history the power of multiracial unity in fighting for economic and social justice. When white farmers and workers and black Republicans reached across the color line in the late 1800s, the resulting black-white Fusion Movement won every statewide election in North Carolina. Today the Forward Together Moral Monday Movement is working with whites, blacks, Asian Americans, Native Americans and Latinos; unions and business owners; teachers and parents; doctors and patients; and Republicans and Democrats to build a new coalition that can stand up to these regressive attacks on working families and the poor.
This is the only winning recipe for labor victories in the South and around the country: Black, brown and white people must unite and fight. It is time for labor to reach out to its natural allies—the civil rights community. That is why we are holding Moral Monday Labor Day actions.
We echo King’s call from decades ago. It is time that we come together to fight for wages and working conditions that reflect our deepest moral and constitutional values. It is time we strengthen the right to collective bargaining.
When we all come together, what a day for justice it will be.
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The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II is president of the North Carolina state conference of the NAACP. Richard Trumka is president of the AFL-CIO.