One after the other, the voices of our region’s strong past echoed loud and clear.
One after the other, retirees in our community, mostly people in their 80s, called “Corbett” yesterday afternoon to share their stories and stand up to those who attack the noble purpose to which they committed their working years.
One after the other, they said how proud they are to have been members of a union.
Organized labor nowadays lacks the power it wielded in the hard labor past of hard coal country. Today’s workers lack the wages, the benefits and the protection that once existed in Northeastern Pennsylvania for men and women who toiled in factories and coal mines.
Organized labor might be down but unions are not out.
The voices of social justice are still heard anywhere people give thanks for the 40-hour work week, vacations and sick time. The voices of fair play in the work place are still heard whenever a grievance is filed against unfair labor practices. The voices of the people who refuse to turn their backs on the blood sacrifice and struggle of their ancestors who came to America the chase the dream of a better life for themselves and their families are still heard throughout our scarred land.
The voices of labor are still very much with us.
And we owe the legacy of the past far more than a selfish and self-destructive attack on the present.
Unions are as necessary today as they were yesterday. We might have far more privilege, but the same kind of callous bosses that always put profits above people are still in control. Their mean-spirited justification of low wages, no benefits and wholesale disrespect on the job must be stopped.
At noon today union members and their supporters will hold a rally at a sacred statue near the Lackawanna County Courthouse. The sculpted image of labor champion John Mitchell will serve as the gathering point for however many people come to show their solidarity forever.
That’s right, I said solidarity forever.
For those who understand the important relevance of the phrase, no explanation is necessary. For those, including Teas Party members who have threatened to hold their own weak counter protest at the same site, no explanation is possible.
In a way, their Tea-jerk reaction is sad.
As if in a daze, these alleged sons and daughters of liberty rally against their own best interests. These same people voted Republican in November, calling the GOP victory their own when all they did was hurt themselves and countless people in need.
Instead of a true voice of the people, all I hear is laughter from the ghosts of robber barons who treated workers like indentured servants, peasants with no options, no power and no way out – until the unions arrived.
Corporate greed still runs amok. Wall Street bankers and business sharks still call the shots in Washington. And, yes, some union members and officials have disgraced the cause with abuse, theft and dishonesty.
Whether in the boardroom or the union hall, corruption and greed always go hand in hand.
But this new breed of politician is the same as the old breed. In one state after another, from Wisconsin to Ohio to Florida, these despots threaten to erase workers’ rights that could one day destroy collective bargaining among public service unions.
Unless good people rise against these deceitful money masters, America will move backwards. Instead of evolving through progress and prosperity, the core of our nation that thrives on a vibrant middle class will wither and maybe die.
The class war has already begun – from the top down. Fighting back is exactly that – self defense for survival. And the labor movement is, indeed, worth fighting for.
One after another, more and more people see the conservative Republican ruse for exactly what it is – a return to the bad old days of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.
Such disparity must never be allowed to expand – especially here in Northeastern Pennsylvania where generations of decent people fought and died as part of the honorable tradition of struggle to make life better for everybody.
That courageous tradition must continue.
Look in my eyes when I see you today at the stature.
You’ll see fire – the same fire that sent my grandfather deep into the mines for 45 years after coming to Scranton from Ireland, a raging fire of justice that will never burn out, no matter how desperately the bosses try to extinguish the fury.