Freedom Isn’t Free

Richard Trumka: Freedom Isn’t Free

As Independence Day approaches, I’ve been thinking about that iconic American saying, “Freedom Isn’t Free.”

Usually it refers to the sacrifice of the men and women who serve in the military and their families — and it’s especially poignant now that Iraq- and Afghanistan-era vets are facing a 12.7 percent unemployment rate. (For a bright note, take a look at some of those vets rebuilding the World Trade Center after being trained in construction trades through an innovative union effort.)

I do believe that freedom isn’t free — but today the corporate and political right wing is trying to cheapen this truly American value. They’ve been cynically using the word “freedom” to rally the American public against its own best interests.

When the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, Sarah Palin tweeted, “Obama lies; freedom dies.”

She’s referring, I guess, to the freedom to go without health care when you’re sick.

In its otherwise positive decision, the Supreme Court gave states the “freedom” to deny Medicaid coverage to their poorest residents — even though the federal government would pick up the tab.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker received the National Rifle Association’s “Defender of Freedom” award recently. I guess they meant Gov. Walker is defending teachers’ freedom from joining with coworkers to bargain fairly about things like class size.

Time after time we’re told corporations should have freedom from pesky job safety regulations, environmental protections and labor standards — giving working people the freedom to be crushed in collapsing mines, choke on filthy air and get paid too little to live on.

When politicians on the right talk about the “freedom” to replace Social Security with vouchers, what they really mean is freedom from a secure retirement income. The “freedom” to get vouchers for retraining is actually freedom from unemployment compensation’s safety net when your job is shipped overseas.

The “freedom” of cutting local government translates into the freedom from having the help of a cop or a firefighter or EMS tech in your time of greatest need.

Let’s call this right-wing “freedom” catch phrase what it really is: a grossly political strategy to dupe the public, which holds the word “freedom” as something sacred.

This Independence Day, I say let’s go back to a truer use of the word “freedom.” Let’s start with President Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. I would add the freedom to bargain collectively.

Those freedoms are under attack today. We all will pay a heavy price if we don’t stand up and fight for them.

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