The AFL-CIO sent me a candidate’s questionnaire some weeks ago, and along with my responses to their questions I sent the following statement.
Yesterday, I was notified that I have received the endorsement of the Virginia AFL-CIO. Here are some reasons why I’m gratified to have earned that support.
I could begin with my family background, being brought up by parents who were strongly supportive of labor, and who conveyed the history of courage and determination and sacrifice that it took for workers to gain the rights that workers then had in America, in the 1950s. This attitude of sympathy for the rights and needs of working people was a deep part of my family culture.
So also was a passion for justice. And from my study of history over the past half century, I know that inequalities of power almost invariably bring injustice. There’s a quote that I’ve used in more than one of my books on the problem of power that captures what happens all too often in human affairs—a quote from the ancient historian Thucydides, attributed to the Athenians as they were about to exterminate the people of an island who’d insisted on their rights to be left alone rather than to allow the Athenians to use them for their imperial aims: “The strong do what they can, while the weak suffer what they must.”
A world governed by that principle is completely unacceptable to me. I have devoted my life to the effort to make the world ruled more by justice, and less by raw power, than those Athenians would have it.
And that relates directly to my strong desire to strengthen American workers and the American labor movement.
In the America I grew up in, the power of labor was much greater than it is in our times. The economist John Kenneth Galbraith wrote approvingly of the “countervailing powers” among corporations, labor, and government. It was a means of obtaining a fair society, just as the checks and balances of our Constitution were designed to prevent tyranny.
Since that time, the power of corporations has grown enormously, while labor has weakened. And the corporate power that fuels today’s Republican Party, and that my opponent serves, is relentlessly working to weaken labor still further. This we see in the assault on collective bargaining rights of public employees in states like Wisconsin, in the right-wing outcry against the National Labor Relations Board’s enforcing the law, and just this week in the decision on Knox v. Service Employees International Union, Local 1000.
(This same corporatist force is also assaulting government with the same ferocity, working to discredit our democratic government and cripple its capacity to regulate corporate activity in the public interest.)
The success of this assault on the power of working men and women in America is reflected in the increasingly unfair distribution of the rewards from our economic system: while labor productivity steadily increases, wages stagnate and profits soar. This is not economic fairness, issued by the market. It is injustice, the toxic fruit of growing imbalance of power between workers and the giant corporations for whom they work.
I detest this development, and am proud to stand as an ally to organized labor to try to rebalance the distribution of power. The America I believe in is not one where the middle class is being hollowed out in order to give still more to those who have the most. It is one that has a vibrant middle class, where people who work hard can get their fair share of our national wealth and can live in security and dignity, and can see that their children get the opportunity to make the most of their God-given gifts.
I strongly oppose the force that’s working to take wealth and power from average Americans to give to those who are already the richest and most powerful. This tendency points to that profound moral and spiritual crisis that now besets America, a crisis that is my whole reason for running for Congress.