Instead of giving in to the conservative campaign to demonize organized labor, progressives should push to secure higher benefits for all workers.

This week, thousands of public employees, students and their allies flooded Wisconsin’s streets to protest Governor Scott Walker’s plan to take away workers’ right to collective bargaining. This very public display of workers’ power is a much-needed reinvigoration of a beleaguered labor movement, and as Jane McAlevey outlines in her article in this week’s issue of The Nation, could be the first step toward rebuilding an ethical American economy.

In states where unions are more difficult to form, quality of life drops across the board as it becomes more difficult for all workers to negotiate the terms of their employment. That’s why it’s so disheartening, McAlevey says in this interview with executive editor Betsy Reed, that many Americans have bought into the stereotypes peddled by the likes of Wisconsin’s Walker that union workers are “lazy” and “overpaid” drains on our economy.

As a union organizer in Nevada, McAlevey experienced this assault on workers firsthand. To counter the right’s well-funded attack, McAlevey and her colleagues chose to take a stand for the gains union workers had made over a half-century of hard negotiations. Instead of pushing the benefits of government workers down to the level of the private sector, McAlevey argued that we should instead fight to bring the benefits of all workers up to the same high level of protection and quality of life. What can workers across the country learn from McAlevey’s successes?

—Kevin Gosztola

Image courtesy of OPEIU