Over the years, I often have reminded my children that, for our family, Labor Day can never be just another holiday.
I tell them about A. Phillip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car porters and their role in bringing about the integration of the U.S. military and the movement for civil rights – and I explain how union membership, living wages and benefits are still lifting Americans up in life.
In more personal terms, I remind my children that, before their grandparents had a union to stand by them, they were forced to work from sun-up to sundown as sharecroppers for what amounted to 15 cents an hour.
After Mother and Dad moved to Baltimore to make a better life for their family, my father worked as a laborer at Davison Chemical Company in South Baltimore. Life still was not easy, but my father's union membership helped us to change our lives for the better.
The union provided our family with overtime pay, vacations, and the insurance plan that kept us healthy and strong. Dad’s union card helped my parents buy our home (the same home in which my mother lives to this very day).
Because of that home, we children were able to study at better schools, the foundation for all that we have become in our lives.
This year, I celebrated Labor Day in Charlotte, N.C., with thousands of other Americans who understand that our labor movement, business and government must work together to build a more prosperous and secure country.
Speaker after speaker at our Democratic Convention testified how their lives are better today because our nation’s unions--and because of President Obama’s tough, but farsighted, decisions after inheriting the worst economic crisis since the 1930s.
Former President Bill Clinton reminded us that President Barack Obama had the wisdom and courage to move forward with an auto industry restructuring that worked, saving more than a million jobs at GM, Chrysler, their dealerships and auto parts manufacturing all over the country.
United Auto Workers President Bob King offered us a compelling insight into why that restructuring worked, applauding the union’s members who were willing to compromise and sacrifice for the greater good.
Our government, business and organized labor came together in support of a reasonable plan. As a result, 250,000 more Americans are working in the auto industry today than on the day the companies were restructured. And our nation’s taxpayers did not lose a dime.
We also recalled Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s judgment at the time. A decision had to be made about whether American auto manufacturing would survive and his response to that crisis was “Let Detroit go bankrupt.”
I, for one, am grateful that President Obama - not Governor Romney - was the man whom Americans had elected to make that call.
What kind of America would it have been that no longer manufactured automobiles? What would have been the consequences of that loss for our economy and our national security?
Fortunately, at that moment of crisis for our nation, we were led by a president wise enough to do what was right, despite the intense, short-term opposition that his decision evoked, and fortunately, President Obama then had the support of a Democratic congressional majority.
Today, we all can feel a sense of national pride and security that General Motors is once again the number one automaker in the world - as should the auto workers who achieved that goal. In that hopeful spirit, we almost could forgive Mitt Romney and his Tea Party Republican allies for their social amorality and economic ineptitude in the past.
We could forgive, but we should not forget.
Having left our economy in shambles four years ago - and having done nothing since to create or save American jobs - Mitt Romney’s Republicans are now demanding that we give them the power to fail all over again.
Neither should we forget that our labor unions were essential in expanding our nation’s middle class - and remain central today as we rebuild our economy.
That is why, back in 1980, Ronald Reagan’s Republican Party reaffirmed the GOP’s traditional “...commitment to the fundamental principle of fairness in labor relations, including the legal right of unions to organize workers and to represent them through collective bargaining.”
Alarmingly, today’s reactionary Republicans - and their presidential candidate - have reneged even on that basic commitment. Their 2012 Republican Platform, if enacted, would virtually destroy the right and power of America’s working families to organize and work together for better lives.
We are forging an economy that will work for working families - but we need to reelect the President who has shown that he will fight for us all. We neither need, nor can we afford, another hostile takeover at this critical time.
Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s Seventh Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives