A convention for the rest of us

Posted: August 11, 2012

Tens of thousands of working people are expected to gather today on the Eakins Oval, in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We aim to recapture the spirit of 1776, put our best ideas on the table, and ignite a debate about how we can take control of our destiny.

We're doing this in advance of the Republican and Democratic conventions because we think both parties need to revisit their priorities. The experiences of Americans who have lost their jobs, their homes, their savings, and their dreams over the past decade have shown us that we need to refocus the national conversation on what it will take to rebuild American prosperity and a strong middle class. Elected leaders should be listening less to the financiers who fill their campaign coffers and more to the working people who are the nation's backbone.

Our agenda in Philadelphia includes an "American Workers' Second Bill of Rights," after an idea first proposed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. We believe every American is entitled to:

  • Full employment and a living wage.
  • Full participation in the electoral process.
  • A voice in the workplace.
  • A high-quality education.
  • A secure, healthy future.

We hope hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans will endorse these principles, and that we can move our elected leaders and candidates to do the same. Between now and November, members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers will join other labor volunteers in cities and towns across the country to talk about the issues, the candidates, and the election.

We've already had productive discussions with Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who told us that she might be interested in incorporating some of our ideas into the party's platform. She is expected to join us in Philadelphia today.

I'm willing to have a similar discussion with her GOP counterpart, Reince Priebus, if he is. And if you doubt that Republicans and labor can find common ground, consider the record of a governor named Romney - not Mitt, but his father, George. As governor of Michigan during the 1960s, he signed that state's Public Employee Relations Act, guaranteeing government workers the right to organize and bargain collectively. George Romney was also a strong supporter of civil rights; he favored making it easier for citizens to vote, not harder.

Not long ago, there was bipartisan support for expanding civil and economic rights to boost economic growth and broaden prosperity. We can return to those principles of bottom-up democracy, which made our nation great.

The alternative is to surrender to the divine right of corporations and concern ourselves only with the wants of wealthy political donors. But surrender wasn't on the minds of the patriots who gathered in Philadelphia in 1776, and it's not on the minds of working Americans this year, either.

Ed Hill is president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and a Pennsylvania native. For more information, see WorkersStandforAmerica.com.

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