Those attending last week’s conference sponsored by the Campaign for America’s Future in Washington, DC (like myself) were treated to a steady stream of rousing speeches and policy advocacy from some of our nation’s leading politicians, strategists and activists. But the message which overwhelmingly stood out for me after two and a half jam-packed days of presentations: American workers, in order to protect their interests, must vote in November. Yet many don’t, and those who do often do so for reasons other than those issues critical to their livelihood. Those of us who wish to elevate the plight of the American worker and make workplace issues a key part of the policy debate have a great deal of work to accomplish before November 2004.
There are few things more central to the lives of Americans than work. It provides the means for subsistence, is often the primary source of intellectual stimulation and social interaction, and is often the primary determinant of where and how you and your family live. In the words of the recently departed President Reagan, if you ask the American worker whether he or she is better off than four years ago, what would that answer be?
Most workers are paying more for health care benefits, or no longer have health benefits at all, either as a result of losing their jobs or being employed in jobs where health benefits are not provided by the employer. Many workers are making less, working harder, and spending less time with their families, sometimes juggling multiple jobs where one full-time job was formerly sufficient. A number of workers who had hoped to now be enjoying retirement are still working, either because their pension security is not what they had hoped, health benefits are too expensive, or the decline in their personal investments left them short of what they needed to retire. And an unacceptably high number of workers still have no jobs at all, no immediate prospects of finding work in an economy where entire industries are disappearing or being shipped overseas, and few if any resources left after exhausting unemployment benefits.
When asked, Americans say that workplace issues are important to them. In polling results released by veteran strategist Stan Greenberg at the conference, 62 percent of those polled agreed with the following statement
They say the economy is doing well, but that’s not true for middle class and working people. Jobs are scarce, incomes stagnant, benefits are being cut, even while health care costs
while only 35 percent agreed with this statement:
The economy is showing real signs of success – record growth, highest home ownership ever, new jobs and rising stock values and our economy is moving in the right direction.
And 75 percent strongly favor a candidate with the following proposal:
Our economy has lost 3 million jobs, and very few new jobs are being created in America. The old policies are failing before this fundamental challenge. While we accept the benefits of technology and global trade, we need a major national effort to create millions of jobs in America – at least ten million jobs in four years. My plan includes a new national investment in education and training and a major investment in our towns and communities, to modernize housing, parks, roads and highways, to create good jobs, including the hiring of new teachers, day-care workers and nurses.
Americans believe these things are important (as well they should), but will that be enough to motivate them to vote? And to base their vote on the respective candidates’ positions on jobs and economic issues? During the first day of last week’s conference (June 2), on the front page of the USA Today newpaper delivered to each hotel guest, was an article entitled “Churchgoing closely tied to voting patterns.” The key point of this article:
Where will you spend Sunday morning? Will you go to church or Home Depot? Sing in the choir or play golf? Answer that question and you’ve given the most reliable demographic clue about your vote on Election Day.
It is certainly not our intent to denigrate the importance or power of religious values. However, it is not necessary to secularize society to hope for a day where the quality of the five days or more that Americans spend at work weighs as heavily on their voting decisions than where they spend two hours on Sunday morning. While churches have demonstrated their abilities to organize the faithful, we cannot leave it only to labor unions to ensure that workers, especially those who are dissatisfied with their jobs and the economy, choose to vote this November. We all have an obligation to point out the paramount importance of work-related issues to those who would otherwise stay home, or base their votes on issues with a lesser impact on daily life.
Workplace Fairness is non-partisan, and as such, cannot tell you who you should vote for. But as Julian Bond told conference attendees so eloquently about his own organization, the NAACP, “non-partisan doesn’t mean non-critical.” Whether it’s the elimination of ergonomic standards, the decimation of overtime as we know it, or the appointment of judges hostile to workers’ interests, there is plenty of which to be critical. And plenty for those who care about making the workplace better, not just for corporate executives, to do between now and November 2, 2004.
AlterNet: On the Spot: Progressives Flex Their Muscles and Their Fantasies
Wall Street Journal: Hopeful Liberals See Signs of a Political Comeback
Washington Post: ‘Take Back America’ Aims at Left