Labor Voices: Your vote is your voice

Gary Jones

For the people of Flint, justice may come from a courtroom, but change comes at the ballot box.

November 6 is Election Day.

In 2010 and 2014, as families in Flint went to the voting booth, little did they know that their decisions would impact something as fundamental as the water they drink. However, policies put in place by the state and local officials elected on those days put saving money ahead of the health and water quality of Flint residents.

In the past four years, Michiganders have experienced, firsthand, just how important who runs your government can be. Walter Reuther was famous for connecting the ballot box to the bread box -- and it is just as true today as it was then.

In Detroit, children face a water crisis in their public schools. Drivers in Michigan have gotten to know tire stores and tow trucks far too well because of the terrible condition of our roads. An attempt to save money on unemployment programs by automating activity resulted in thousands of Michiganders being erroneously charged with unemployment fraud and facing budget crushing repayments -- only to find the computer was in error and in fact, they were entitled to those benefits long after suffering through credit issues and financial crisis.

Jones writes: "In the past four years, Michiganders have experienced, firsthand, just how important who runs your government can be."

Government matters.

Voting matters.

Who you vote for matters.

For UAW members, government policies impact the health and safety rules in the workplace; the right to organize; the right to a fair collective bargaining process; and even the impact on our health care and retirement.

In a time of very deep political divide and social unrest, knowing our core values, knowing who we are, and knowing what the UAW is about could not be more important than it is today.

Legislatively, conservatives, benefiting from gerrymandered statehouse seats, have now passed right-to-work legislation designed to undermine collective bargaining in many states like Michigan and have attempted to limit what state employees can even discuss at the bargaining table.

Socially, many of the quality-of-life issues our family-first UAW has fought for are increasingly under attack. Wages are under attack through poor trade agreements, and nonunion manufacturers abusing temporary workers creating a perma-temp culture. Health and safety in the workplace is under attack as new rules allow companies to discard key health and safety history records making it nearly impossible to track the policies that can lead to injuries on the job or death.

Walter Reuther once said, “The labor movement is developing a whole new middle class.”

That middle class meant values that have supported social and democratic policies, values that are color blind and values that are gender neutral. These are values that embrace education, health care, time for families, fraternity, a fair living wage and equality for all.

We have defeated some of the racist policies of the South where even water fountains were separated by race. But decades later, the income of your neighborhood may now dictate the quality of water in those fountains and whether you have safe water to drink. In effect, the symbolism of the water fountain has gone from one based on race, to one based on income! We are better than that.

And we can be better by going to the polls and making your voice, your vote!

Gary Jones is president of UAW International Union.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Gary Jones, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.