By Jon Hendry, President NEW MEXICO FEDERATION OF LABOR, AFL-CIO
Labor Day usually conjures images of the end of summer – one last barbecue, a final trip to the Butte or even just a day off of work to spend time with the people we love.
Yet our picnics, road trips and tailgating parties wouldn’t be possible without the contributions of the men and women who do the work that keeps our communities and our country going – the engineers who design our roads, the police officers, firefighters and prison guards who keep us safe and the small-business owners who sell us our hot dog buns and sunscreen.
Labor Day is a reminder that all of us, whether we are employed or looking for work, are the heartbeat of this country. And over the next few months, we will have a choice between protecting America’s greatest strength – each other – or allowing our voices to be silenced by those with more money, power and influence.
America’s prosperity came about because the people who were the pulse of America were recognized, respected and rewarded. Everyone had a fair shot at getting ahead – because everyone played by the same rules. Good jobs and decent wages led to real economic growth, thriving businesses and strong communities, which led in turn to a better future for our children.
Yet many of our leaders have pushed a starkly different vision for our country’s future.
Wall Street-driven elected officials have fought to keep the rules that allow the most privileged Americans to get ahead by gaming the system, regardless of the consequences for the rest of Americans. It’s a strategy that creates millions in corporate profit while leaving behind foreclosed homes and longer unemployment lines.
Not only does our tax code allow wealthy CEOs to claim a tax break for exporting jobs overseas, it allows them to look forward to paying zero U.S. taxes on the jobs and income moved offshore. The richest 2 percent of Americans are allowed to claim larger and larger tax cuts. Meanwhile, less-fortunate Americans are forced to pick up the tab as Congress votes to end Medicare as we know it and cut benefits for Social Security.
In New Mexico we have seen the lowest job growth in the country under Gov. Susana Martinez, yet there are thousands of state jobs funded but not filled and capital money is still piling up that could be used to fix our critical infrastructure needs and create well-paid jobs.
There is no clearer example of this philosophy than Republican vice presidential pick Paul Ryan. According to the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, his budget would deliver a hefty tax cut to the wealthiest Americans while stripping $347 million from health care, education and road repairs in New Mexico alone. Under his plan, the real job creators – our workers and our small-business owners – are out of luck.
The Ryan plan is just one example of why we need to stop rewarding politicians who rig the game for their wealthy donors. The flood of money into our election system has made many politicians more interested in helping those who bankroll their campaigns instead of the rest of us.
Yet is the work of a CEO more valuable than that of a nurse hard at work saving lives? Does an investment banker contribute more to our economy than the engineer who builds safe bridges and roads? I believe in the vision of an America that honors and respects all work and the people who do it.
That is why it is so important for all of us to make our voices heard – to insist that all of us play an important role in our communities and our country. We must elect leaders who really will stand on the side of the people they represent and not those with the deepest pockets.
Over the next few months, we will be hammered on every side by slick TV ads and mailers asking and cajoling us with promises of what they will or won’t do for us. Our job is to take a step back and look at the issues. How do our candidates stand on the things that really matter?
Because in the end, we need leaders who will build shared prosperity and create an economy that works for everyone. Most important, we need leaders who give America’s workers what we need to continue being America’s backbone.
That’s how we can really commemorate Labor Day.