Social Security has a Union Label. The 1935 passage of the original Social Security act was preceded by long-term labor movement activism. Every subsequent improvement and extension of social security protection was moved forward by labor movement action. Protections for disabled workers, Medicare and Medicaid, all part of the Social Security program, were the result of pressure from the labor movement and its allies in government and beyond.
The important role of Labor in social progress was acclaimed by President Obama, who said: “It was the labor movement that helped secure so much of what we take for granted today. The 40-hour week, the minimum wage, family leave, health insurance, Social Security, Medicare, retirement plans. The cornerstones of the middle-class security all bear the union label.” But progressive achievements are not invulnerable to attack.
In 2016, Social Security is under attack again. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has sought large reductions in Social Security programs throughout his career in Congress. The upcoming election could threaten these programs if Ryan and his allies win big and maintain Congressional majorities.
Donald Trump, the likely GOP presidential candidate, called Social Security a Ponzi scheme in 2000 and has since indicated that for political reasons he cannot criticize it. His plan for supporting Social Security relies on projected corporate tax cuts to spark the economy, trickle-down economics in other words. His fiscal policy would actually result in a huge budget deficit requiring cuts in all federal programs.
Hillary Clinton, the AFL-CIO endorsed candidate for the presidency, has pledged to protect and improve benefits under the Social Security program. Democrats have countered Republican criticism of Social Security’s solvency with proposals like raising its revenue by raising the income cap on contributions.
Unfortunately, the assault on the middle class and workers’ rights has many sides. The extension of right-to-work laws remains a Republican goal. Trump, told South Carolina Radio Network, “I love the right to work.”
With all of this in mind, union voters should remember all of the ways in which our country has been improved by the labor movement’s progressive agenda, social progress proudly displaying the Union Label.