Almost unnoticed in the well-earned exuberance of the Obama and other pro-worker candidates being elected to public office, is that America's unions had not only provided critical ground level electoral support but had also created the largest demand in our labor movement.
Just a week before the election the United Steelworkers notified the AFL-CIO that they had collected 195,000 signatures putting us over the top in our goal to manifest a million workers demanding passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. Now well over a million workers signed cards and completed petitions to demand that President Obama and the new Congress pass the Employee Free Choice Act.
America's unions collected the signatures manifesting the demand while helping Barack Obama and pro-union candidates to their overwhelming victory by tying this election to critical economic issues for workers. And no issue is more important for America's workers than restoring the freedom to form unions and bargain collectively -- exactly what the Employee Free Choice Act is designed to do.
Over the last 30 years America's corporations and anti-worker/union-busting law firms aided by successive rightwing governments and appointees to the National Labor Relations Board have eroded and now destroyed the fundamental freedom of America's workers to form unions and bargain collectively. Unions have been the most effective exit ramp from poverty since passage of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935. Closing that way out of poverty for workers in a changing American economy coincides with and is the principal reason for 30 years of wage stagnation and decline.
And 30 years of wage stagnation and decline is a big part of the reason for the recession we are now in. Working families with stagnant and declining wages have tried to keep up economically by incurring more and more debt--mortgage debt, credit card debt, education debt, and healthcare debt.
So now all the economists agree that there just isn't enough buying power amongst average Americans to power our economy. And the middle class is being squeezed and threatened. To pump up the buying power, the consumption power the government has tried one economic stimulus, is debating another and should start a major public works infrastructure improvement project. All these are important. But nothing will do as much to create a long-term sustainable, growing economy that lifts working families from poverty and narrows our shameful economic inequality like restoring working Americans' freedom to form unions and bargain for a larger share of the wealth their work creates.
So when United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard and Rapid Response Coordinator Tim Waters notified us at the AFL-CIO that they had signed on the millionth worker to our demand, they were completing a demand to restore a fundamental freedom in America, but just as importantly giving our new president and Congress a road map to restore economic health in America.
Of course, those who've long fought against worker rights, who engineered the huge redistribution of wealth from the middle and the bottom to the top, who did all they could to defeat Barack Obama and other worker friendly candidates, will do all they can to stop the Employee Free Choice Act. The Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, Grover Norquist, and the radical rightwing Republican Party want an economy that works only for them -- just as they want a bailout that works only for their class.
Obama and pro-worker/pro-union candidates campaigned for Change We Can Believe In. The American People want change that will help turn around America. Nothing will do more to create that change than giving workers the opportunity and freedom to build their collective economic power and lift us all.
One million of America's workers say that we must pass the Employee Free Choice Act. That legislation should be the cornerstone of President Obama's economic recovery package come January.