Updated: Jan 6
Most people don’t realize that about a third of the power players in the original Progressive Movement came from Nebraska, and they enjoyed great popular support in their home state. Grace and Edith Abbott from Grand Island, Father Flanagan in Omaha and of course William Jennings Bryan of Lincoln were a large part of the inspiration and leadership of the movement that changed the social and political consciousness of America.
On the political front, it was William Jennings Bryan that captured the imagination of both our Party and eventually the mainstream of America? How did he do it? He looked at what was happening across the nation – the unfair and egregious use of power by the rich and powerful – and called them out. He did not attack them for their success. He attacked them for their excess. He told the truth and made a reasonable case for fairness – just like magic it changed everything.
Today, the Progressive Movement is fixated on bald-faced socialism that ignores the truth and focuses on hate. Leaders of the original Progressive Movement, about half of whom were Republicans, would have been shocked and deeply offended by the tactics and rhetoric of today’s Progressives.
So, while our Party continues with its nihilist obsessions, we have been all but ignoring our greatest ally. Our union brothers and sisters in Michigan and other General Motors sites around the United States – 55 production sites to be exact – have been fighting for fairness and losing. Unions have been the backbone of the Democratic Party for a hundred years, and if you haven’t been watching, their support for our Party is eroding. Donald Trump carried a big chunk of the labor vote the last time around, and if we keep going down the path we’re on, he’ll do it again in 2020.
Corporate profits have been soaring for the last couple of years, and as usual labor has not been getting their fair share. As we all know, health care costs are going through the roof, which is having a direct impact on the standard of living and benefits of our workers. Corporations should be helping us keep pace, but as we all know, they don’t do anything without a bright light and a lot of people watching.
Another bite we’re facing with increasing frequency is the way companies are using temporary workers to avoid the costs and obligations incurred in hiring full-time employees. Companies, like General Motors, can keep these temps in place for years and avoid paying for the protections afforded regular workers. This practice keeps union membership down, and the people who need our support the most, the little guy, doesn’t get it.
Another common practice throughout the United States is the exploitation of workers by giving them a “management” title, paying them a salary and intimidating them into working hours far beyond a normal workweek. A new regulation was in place to end this practice and companies all over Nebraska were preparing, but when Trump was elected, it disappeared in the night. Again, the little guy became victim of corporate greed.
I mention these things to point out that even though unions have lost membership and power in recent years, the necessity of their existence is as important today as it ever was. There is a widening wealth gap in America today, and it is increasing as I write because of dozens of little things. Our Party has been so focused on splashy news, Twitter and hate, we’ve neglected our most sacred responsibility – our unions and the little guys they take care of.