By Rep. Nate Roberts
Idahoans know what it means to put in an honest day’s work. From the ranchers and farm workers who bring food to our tables, the factory worker punching a clock, and caregivers looking after aging family members — Idaho was built by working people. Unfortunately, it is getting harder for most of us to get ahead.
If we look to the past we can learn a lot about the present and how we got here. In 1892, miners in North Idaho were forced to strike after owners demanded they work longer hours for less pay. The miners wanted to keep the living wages they had negotiated for all workers — not just the skilled subsurface miners, but the surface workers at the mine too. They understood that there is dignity in all work, a value that still unites Idahoans today.
In true Wild West fashion, deception and violence followed. These actions, and later disputes, became pivotal moments in the struggle for workers’ rights. Miners from a few small towns in Idaho showed the power of workers standing together in solidarity. Across the country, the labor movement grew, and with that came progress. The eight-hour workday, weekends off, pensions, safety standards, and more are benefits workers enjoy today thanks to our parents and grandparents being united for a better life.
Here’s some more Idaho history: In 1985, Republicans in the Idaho Legislature overrode Democratic Governor John Evans’ veto of the “Right to Work” law. Still in effect today, Right to Work is a policy designed to undermine the power of working people. While backers of these laws like to claim that they protect workers against being forced to join a union, the truth is that federal law has long made that illegal. Its real purpose is to tilt the scales in favor of big corporations and further rig the system at the expense of working families.
We see the consequences of a decades-long campaign against workers and unions today. Wages are slow to rise while housing prices, grocery bills, and gas prices soar. The wealth of our towns and small businesses have been taken by corporate conglomerates, with record profits, while long-promised investments go unfulfilled. And craftily manufactured controversies, pushed by out-of-state interest groups, divide the working class and suppress our history.
It is said that those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it. That is why we must look at our past to move forward. Every worker deserves to be free to join a union, earn a fair wage, go to the hospital without going broke, and finally get some breathing room. Idaho Democrats are committed to building an economy that works for all of us.