Over the last week, organized labor demonstrations have spread through the Midwest in response to the epidemic of conservative certain Republican governors striving to dismantle the organized labor movement. As the magnitude of the demonstrations keeps reaching new heights, it is becoming increasingly clear that the standoff between organized labor and certain Republican governors is not simply about trimming budgets; it’s about crippling the labor movement and allowing employers to slash benefits and collective bargaining rights for their employees.
The partisan, legislative attacks on labor unions are an assault on both America’s working class and jobs. If certain Republicans get their way, workers will lose many of their rights, benefits, and dignity. Worse, they could lose their jobs all together. The plans to break the labor unions cannot be allowed to succeed.
The National Jewish Democratic Council is proud to stand with the organized labor community. We support the labor community because of how the Torah, Talmud, and Jewish tradition instruct us to treat workers fairly and with dignity. We also support the labor community because of the unique historical role that American Jews have played in the labor movement for over a century.
We Jews are heirs of a prophetic tradition that has ever sought to perfect the world that God gave to us. As the book of Genesis reminds us, we are all made in the divine image, and no one person is inherently better than another. That is why we honor the dignity of each person, for their being a member of the human family, and for their chosen work in the world.
The books of Leviticus [19:13] and Deuteronomy [24:14-15] demand that employers should be fair and honest in their relationships with their employees. From these Scriptures we specifically learn ‘You shall not defraud your fellow. You shall not commit robbery. Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.’ And ‘Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy…Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it.’
And the book of Exodus [23:12] brought forth the ancient but sublime innovation of a day of rest. Specifically in connection with the laborer, it commands, ‘Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and so that the slave born in your household, and the foreigner as well, may be refreshed.’
The American Jewish tradition of support for union organizing and collective bargaining began more than 100 years ago, beginning in earnest with the tragedy that we know of as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. One hundred forty-six women lost their lives that March day, whose centenary anniversary we will observe next month. From that event we strove to correct the unsafe and unjust conditions at factories and sweatshops all across the country. We moved forward and continued to honor the dignity of all workers who daily toil for themselves and for their family.
What does all this mean?
Our Jewish religious and civil tradition demands that employers treat workers fairly, from providing adequate wages and benefits, to ensuring safe and appropriate working conditions. And the ability of workers to bargain collectively has allowed us to achieve a higher standard of living for workers, such as a fair and safe workplace; to raise the profits and benefits of employers due to the hard work of dedicated employees such as you; and to receive many other benefits for working people in our country.
The Jewish Labor Committee and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism have voiced their support for the labor community as well. Additionally, other Wisconsin-based Rabbis, including Biatch, and leaders from other faiths have added their names to a petition in support of the Wisconsin labor community. As the demonstrations spread to other states, we implore other Jewish groups and leaders to stand with the labor community.
Protecting the labor community from legislative attacks is not just an economic issue; it’s a moral and ethical issue. NJDC will continue to publish updates on the labor community demonstrations as they continue to reach new heights.