It is distressing, but not really surprising, that heroic struggles for freedom and justice, even when successful, tend to be forgotten by subsequent generations. Young people in South Africa, who have benefited directly by the successful anti-apartheid freedom fight, have grown up in a land in which they have, and take for granted, rights that their parents, and even their older brothers and sisters, risked their lives for. Young women in America can scarcely believe that their mothers and grandmothers had to brave ridicule, dismissal, and much worse for the rights they enjoy so unthinkingly. Even in the Afro-American Studies Department in which I taught for the last sixteen years of my career, doctoral students whose field of study included the Civil Rights Movement found it hard to call to mind the names of men and women with whom their own professors had marched. And so I ought not to be surprised to find that so many working men and women in America are utterly ignorant of the bloody battles union organizers fought for the five day week, health care, paid vacations, safe working conditions, and decent wages.
Right now, we are witnessing a blatant and unabashed effort by an emboldened right wing to strip working men and women of the simply right to organize and bargain collectively. Let us not be misled. Republicans are attempting to dismantle, piece by piece, the structure of social justice and welfare that it has taken a century and more to construct. They want to eliminate labor unions, terminate Social Security, phase out Medicare, get rid of safety and quality controls on products sold in the marketplace, and reduce the vast majority of Americans to the status of virtual serfdom, all in the name of free markets, liberty, and the American Way.
This is a fight worth fighting, and each one of us must do whatever he or she can do to support those who are on the front lines. Give money to the strikers and the Wisconsin State Senators who have absented themselves to block the Governor from forcing through a bill to destroy public employee unions. Sign petitions, go to rallies, and proclaim everywhere the truth that labor organizing is, in our country at this time, THE progressive thing to do. It is more important right now than buying a Volt or separating your garbage for recycling. It is even more important than saving the whales, although all of those are worthwhile efforts.
This fight began in earnest with the successful attempt by that Potemkin Village of a man Reagan to kill PATCO [google it, if you don't' know], and it will not stop until we have driven the troglodytes back into their caves. There cannot be a compromise on this issue, because our success in winning it is the condition for all future meaningful compromises on any other issues of public policy. It is fully as important as ending slavery.