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North America's Strongest Union

People need to preach importance of unions

PHOENIX -- Lawmakers and activists let the thousands of Netroots Nation conference attendees know last week that workers have the power. They just need to harness it.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren at Netroots conference.

In keynote addresses and smaller panel discussions, speakers shared stories about the successes and failures in trying to embolden a movement that puts the people above the powerful. They let it be known that it wouldn't be easy, but it is necessary to take this country back from corporate rule.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) brought conventioneers to their feet by repeatedly stating that issues such as income inequality, retirement security, financial reform and student loan debt are ranked as important ones by the public, even if they are too-often ignored by many on Capitol Hill.

"On these key economic issues, these economic issues that will shape the country, America is progressive. But insider Washington can't hear you; it turns its back. So it's on us to show what we believe in and fight for those values you believe in."

She also noted the importance that unions have in creating a solid middle class. Warren said the decline in income for hardworking Americans can be directly linked to undermining of the labor movement in the U.S.

The senator's thoughts echoed those of participants on a panel looking at how unions can provide solutions to the nation's current economic shortcomings. Several of them noted that a growth in union membership is essential to making a dent in income inequality.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) noted workers are currently pitted against a big business-dominated system that is doing everything it can to stop organizing nationwide.

"This has been a very deliberate, long-run effort of corporate America primarily and government to strip away the ability of unions to organize."

To change that, union advocates need to reframe the discussion, panelists said. That means explaining to Americans that a union contract is the best way to raise wages, ensure a secure retirement and receive paid leave for vacation as well as sick time.

Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, also said pro-worker activists need expand on how better-paid workers would help boost the U.S. economy overall.

"When wages are stagnant in this country, consumption drags and growth drags. It's not the most complicated argument in the world, but we need to make it over and over."

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