Sunday, February 27, 2011
In the colonial era, we lived under royal governors and were happy to abide by laws made half a world away. That was America then, but it’s not America now.
In 1783, the revolutionary War ended and soon we had a constitution. We could make our own laws, but there was no bill of rights. That was America then, but it’s not America now.
Men with property could vote, but most people could not. That was America then, but it’s not America now.
Before 1865 African Americans were enslaved by law. People could say in dispassionate conversation that they did not believe these people should have rights. It wasn’t a dispassionate issue with African Americans. Slavery was never right, but that was America then. It’s not America now.
Before 1920 most women could not vote. People dispassionately argued that women were not mature or intelligent or tough enough to make good choices with a vote. It wasn’t a dispassionate issue with women. It was never right, but that was America then. It’s not America now.
In the 19th and early twentieth century’s, Americans could not join unions legally. Children were forced to work; families labored long hours and still could not earn enough to live. People who favored the bosses could dispassionately say that there was no need for a minimum wage, or safety laws, or old age pensions, or eight hour days, or unemployment compensation. They could say that if you didn’t like the wage or your wretched working conditions, you should go somewhere else. It wasn’t a dispassionate issue with the working people who wanted decent homes, time with their children, a chance for their children to get an education, and enough food on the table. It was never right, but that was America then. It’s not America now.
Some think that we should politely discuss it and then let them take our workers rights away. That we should dispassionately let “democracy” take our workers rights away. Just like the night rider’s who took away the freedom of African Americans for a hundred years. Just like the elected government that sent women’s rights activists to jail in world war one. Just like the legislators that passed poll taxes and literacy laws to disenfranchise people in the south. The supporters of those attempting to take away union rights say “elections have consequences”. In 1948 our country signed the Universal declaration of human rights. Article 23 read:
1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
Some things can be changed by majority vote, but rights are not one of those things. When people are deprived of their rights by law, the law itself becomes illegitimate, and people have the right to organize collectively and demand the restoration of those rights. That is what is happening in Madison Wisconsin today. I went to march with many others and I am proud to say that I stand for workers rights. It isn’t an abstract, dispassionate, issue for discussion. It’s a matter of the preservation of the American way of life. If you let those with the wealth and power buy elections and take away these rights, your rights will surely be next. I don’t want that America of then to become the America of now. Depriving workers of their rights is in the most elemental way Un-American.