Wahls: Labor movement is a pillar of America

We all do better when we all do better. This is a guiding principle of the labor movement that built the American Middle Class, and it’s the most promising path for our future.

Cedar Rapids Gazette, 9/6/2021
By Sen. Zach Wahls

Since the New Deal, the Democratic Party has been defined by our dual commitment to civil rights and workers’ rights, the twin pillars of democratic politics in America. This Labor Day, workers across America will commemorate and celebrate the struggles, sacrifice and advancement of the labor movement, whose victories benefit every American. In addition, this Labor Day is a reminder to the Iowa Democratic Party about the importance of returning to our roots of prairie populism.

While much of the focus on Labor Day rests on the rights secured by the labor movement, another way of looking at this progress is through the lens of responsibility. Over time, the labor movement has changed how our country considers the responsibilities of employers and governments. And the labor movement has taught us about the responsibilities we owe to each other and to the greater good.

Our nation’s 18-month battle with COVID-19 has underscored the importance of strong workplace protections for every Iowan and continues to remind us that we all truly are in this together. Americans from all walks of life have learned and been reminded of the powerful lesson from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that we are all “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Dr. King’s words foreshadowed a lesson from Sen. Tom Harkin, and his late colleague Sen. Paul Wellstone, that, “We all do better, when we all do better.” I couldn’t agree with these sentiments more, and these values are why I am so proud to be a leader in the Democratic Party. These are Labor values, and these are Iowa values.

The Republican Party has recently started claiming they are the party of working people. But let’s look at the facts; when Republicans took power in Iowa, they wasted no time passing an agenda meant to hollow out the middle class. Gov. Kim Reynolds and legislative Republicans passed laws to gut collective bargaining rights, slash wages for union and non-union workers alike, and even to increase property taxes on middle class families.

That’s not a party of working people. That’s not a party that treats Iowans fairly or rewards hard work. That’s not a party that believes in the Scripture that tells us “from those to whom much is given, much is expected.”

The difference between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party is simple: the Democratic Party believes in fairness for every Iowan. We believe in improving the quality of life for all people, not just those at the top. We believe that we all do better when we all have great public schools, have affordable health care, and are members of strong and caring communities.

The Republican Party believes you’re on your own. Period.

The Republican mentality works for those at the top, but not for the people whose blood, sweat, and tears built this country and whose sacrifices ensured the rights and freedoms we will all be celebrating on Labor Day.

The Democratic Party is at a unique moment in our party’s history. The lessons of COVID-19 are universal and speak to fundamental, democratic truths: no man is an island, we are all in this together, and we all do better when we all do better. These are guiding principles of the labor movement that built the American Middle Class. These are the roots of the Iowa Democratic Party’s progressive prairie populism. And they are the most promising path for our future.

I hope you and your family have a safe, responsible, and healthy Labor Day.

Zach Wahls of Coralville is the Democratic leader in the Iowa Senate.