Remember What Labor Day Means

By Community Contributor, Jim Walz, Candidate for U.S. Congress, IL14


Labor Day about that singular Progressive ideal that we put people first, honor working families and protect the rights of workers, that a fair day’s work earns a fair and livable wage.

I have had the privilege of standing with the McHenry County Progressives in historic Woodstock on Labor Day before. I am proud because of what happened in McHenry County that helped make Labor Day a national holiday. It is a heritage we should all be proud of and remember the role the court house and jail near the square have in the Eugene V. Debs story after the Pullman Riots in 1894 when members of the American Railway Union fought for simple safety measure to keep from being maimed and dying at work. Think about that – having to go on strike because employers turn a blind eye toward death and disfigurement of their workers, workers who had no disability benefits or unemployment.

On Labor Day we celebrate a revolutionary idea that the labor of the common person has value and that the dignity of honest work is a basic right that we, as neighbors, can agree upon and support. When we stand together, we are strong and this nation moves forward. Eugene V. Debs once wrote, “…In every age it has been the tyrant, the oppressor and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both to deceive and overawe the people.” Those words are still true today.

A tyrant hides behind patriotic rhetoric and blames our neighbor while slowly taking away the rights of all. A tyrant says that ‘Religious Freedom’ is necessary to aid in discrimination while removing the Johnson Amendment to make of our churches nothing more than a funnel for dark money PACs, fueling the greed of politicians.

From Right to Work laws, millions in corporate welfare handouts, and the naked greed of Wall Street bankers who have again been given the freedom to raid our retirement accounts with impunity while the small consumer protections we fought for are stripped away – we see a tyrant in action.

This isn’t right. It isn’t American.

Right here in Illinois many of our Mechanics Union families are suffering through a strike to demand fair treatment. I’ve spoken with many of them, stood with them and believe they are right and justified in what they do. We must support them in exercising their rights to respectfully unite together and demand fairness.

Right now, in McHenry County, hard earned taxes are being diverted from road services to pay for a lawsuit to defend someone who hates unions and broke state law by firing union workers without just cause. Right now your taxes are being funneled to his crony lawyer and taxpayers are paying for it.

Is that fair? Does this represent our American values?

This is nothing new and that is the sad truth.  For generations we have fought for basic rights, winning key victories that are now under attack. Under leaders like Deb over a century ago, we fought some of the very same battles. This should teach us that we can never rest and never give in.

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a union household. My mother was a proud union member who, through that membership, had the security of knowing her coworkers had her back and would speak up for her. She earned a livable wage to support her family and, as a working woman, knew she was being paid fairly while other working women were not. I know what that meant to her, to the security of my household, and to me. Some lessons you do not forget.

Today, my household is still a union household – a proud Teacher’s union household. I see firsthand what our teacher’s go through, the daily battles they fight for our kids and for each other, just to get the funding they need to prepare the next generation for the future. This should be of paramount importance to all of us.

But politicians prefer to starve our schools, vilify teachers and raid pension funds all while pitting neighbor against neighbor over property taxes and offering false promises in vouchers. That isn’t patriotic or American. That is a lie and it must end now.  When we stand together, we can defeat this rhetoric that threatens our values. When we support each other, we can tear down the false promises that divide us.

Eugene Debs also wrote, “Only the very ignorant and foolish believe that a president who has surrounded himself with Wall Street darlings as cabinet ministers has any serious designs on the trusts.”  After nearly a century, little has changed because we have not fundamentally changed and we must. We must demand representatives who will do what they say and not just pay lip service to these issues. We must demand that the problems we face are addressed in full and solutions serve to benefit the majority, not just a chosen few. We must demand that wages are no longer allowed to be artificially suppressed, that excuses against equal pay must end and that discrimination for any reason be challenged in full.

It is not enough to champion to 2nd Amendment without also protecting the 14th Amendment and equal protections for ALL of our citizens. It is not enough to defend the 1st Amendment without also protecting the 14th Amendment and the rights to collectively bargain and form a union. It is not enough to defend the Constitution and not recognize that the 14th Amendment clearly defines citizens as, “persons born or naturalized in the United States”; it says people, not corporations.

These are American values; these are your inalienable rights. You cannot defend your rights if you do not know what they are. Further, it does not matter what political ideology we hold if we do not see each other as neighbors. It doesn’t matter what your net worth is, if we fail to defend each other. It doesn’t matter what we say we believe, if we are not willing to stand up and defend it.

It is our duty to defend these ideals and, when faced with tyrants and cowards who would end these freedoms for greed and political gain, it becomes our civic duty to replace them with true Representatives who remember what it means to be an American in a community of neighbors. It is time that we remember who we are and what the hope of progress truly means for all of us. We must be a house united and accept nothing less.


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