The Electrical Worker online
July 2012

Introducing 'America's Second Bill of Rights'
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For Wall Street and the 1 percent, life in post-recession America means that the good times are back. But Main Street is still haunted with persistent unemployment and eroding financial security.

Workers the nation over are saying "enough." Thousands are expected to gather in Philadelphia Aug. 11 to put forth "America's Second Bill of Rights" — five tenets that embody the widespread need for fiscal fairness in an economy that is leaving everyday working families behind. The bill is fashioned after the 1944 State of the Union address by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, where he called for a Second Bill of Rights to extend economic security to citizens.

Tragically, the fiscal dangers that FDR sought to avoid have, in many ways, come to pass in contemporary America:

Wealth inequality is increasing at a steady pace, especially with regard to income. Business Week reports that in 1980, CEO pay was 42 times that of the average blue-collar wage earner. By 2011, that number had increased to 380 times the average worker's pay — by far the largest gap in the world, reports

Health insurance in the U.S. remains out of reach for more than 16 percent of the population — upwards of 49.9 million people, according to the Census Bureau. At the same time, medical expenses are behind more than 60 percent of bankruptcies, CNN reports. And most who file for bankruptcy are middle-class, well-educated homeowners, according to data analyzed in the American Journal of Medicine.

Access to a college education is becoming harder, and those who graduate with a degree can look forward to an average of $25,000 in debt, reports CNN Money. And for those who can't find a job or fail to earn enough, default is becoming more common. U.S. News & World Report states that as of 2009, 8.8 percent of borrowers are defaulting on their loans — up nearly 2 percent from the previous year.

For many struggling in the aftermath of the recession, wages are lower across the board. The National Employment Law Project reports that from 2007 to 2011, low-wage jobs grew by more than 3 percent, while mid-wage jobs rose barely a percentage point. Higher-wage jobs fell by 1.2 percent during that time (See "For More Americans, Low Wages are the New Normal," The Electrical Worker, June 2012).

"Everyday Americans are serving notice to political leaders and wealthy elites that the recovery is not reaching working people," said IBEW International President Edwin D. Hill. "America's Second Bill of Rights proposal is broad enough to touch the lives of every American. These are mainstream values that every citizen, regardless of political party, should hold dear.

"The middle class is telling both Republicans and Democrats that we want an America that works for everyone," Hill continued. "Our members are looking forward to standing shoulder to shoulder with teachers, firefighters, nurses and others in Philadelphia next month to champion real change for working families."

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America's Second Bill of Rights

Participants in the Aug. 11 event will have the chance to sign a copy of America's Second Bill of Rights, which will be presented at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., later that month and at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., in September. An online petition will also be circulated.

The Right to Full Employment and a Living Wage: All Americans willing and able to work have the right to safe, gainful employment at a fair and livable wage. We call on the public and private sectors to invest in America's infrastructure and promote industrial development, maintaining job creation as a top policy priority.

The Right to Full Participation in the Electoral Process: Recent initiatives to disenfranchise citizens seek to reduce the rolls of eligible voters and empower money instead of people. We believe these actions constitute an assault on our nation's democracy and history of heroic struggle against voting restrictions based upon property ownership, religion, race and gender and call for reinforcing our fundamental right to vote.

The Right to a Voice at Work: All workers have the right of freedom of association in the workplace, including the right to collectively bargain with their employer to improve wages, benefits and working conditions.

The Right to a Quality Education: Education is a fundamental bedrock of our democracy, vital to America's competitive position in the world and the principal means by which citizens empower themselves to participate in our nations' economic and political systems. Quality, affordable education should be universally available from pre-kindergarten to college level, including an expanded use of apprenticeships and specialty skills training to prepare Americans for the workplace.

The Right to a Secure, Healthy Future: Americans have the right to a baseline level of health care, unemployment insurance and retirement security, all of which have been badly eroded by the disruption of the social compact that served the nation well for decades. We call on government and private industry together to confront the issues of declining access to health care especially for children, weakening of unemployment coverage and inadequate pension plans that undermine the ability of working men and women to retire in dignity, even as Social Security and Medicare are under strain and threatened with cutbacks.

Behind FDR's Second Bill of Rights

It's 1944. American and British warplanes have hammered away at the German forces in northern Africa. Following a relentless air campaign that crushed the fascist opposition, Italy has signed an armistice. The remaining Axis forces are diminished, and the smell of victory is in the air for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Allies.

With the fortune of the war changing, the 61-year-old president was beginning to turn his mind to the domestic front. In his third term in office, on Jan. 11, FDR delivered his State of the Union address via radio to millions of listeners across the nation.

Shining a light toward his vision of the postwar era, Roosevelt said, "It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known."

He told listeners that the country "cannot be content no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people … is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed and insecure."

Dubbed the "Second Bill of Rights" address, the speech would cast ripple effects throughout democracies the world over. Roosevelt laid out his vision for an American society that embraces human potential and ensures the opportunity to build a better quality of life through work, while supporting a strong social safety net.

In his proposed Second Bill of Rights, the president states that every American is entitled to, among other benefits:

• The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

• The right to earn enough to provide adequate food, clothing and recreation;

• The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

• The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment; and

• The right to a good education.

Following his address, one of the most popular programs that was adopted in the ensuing years was the G.I. Bill, which helped pave the way for countless returning veterans seeking higher education. But powerful moneyed interests, the lingering allure of rampant free-market fundamentalism and other political factors stymied the advance of many of these proposed rights in the U.S.

After FDR's death in 1945, his proposal took hold in myriad ways outside the borders of the U.S. It became the basis of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted in 1948. Endorsed by Eleanor Roosevelt, FDR's wife and co-architect of the U.N. declaration, the elements laid out in the president's original speech have also found their way into modern constitutions and amendments in 142 countries.

"President Roosevelt's clarion call for economic liberty wasn't just timely — it was prescient," said IBEW International President Edwin D. Hill. "Looking at the possibility of the demise of the American middle class tells me that now, more than ever, we need economic rights just as much as the right to free speech."


"We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence."

– Franklin Delano Roosevelt



The past year has seen a groundswell of activism from everyday Americans concerned that the recovery is benefitting the 1 percent at the expense of the middle class.

Photo credit: Photo used under a Creative Commons License from Flickr user hardtopeel



In the aftermath of the recession, many feel that working families are being scapegoated by right-wing politicians for the results of reckless Wall Street practices.