Each year on Nov. 11, Americans set aside 24 hours to pause, reflect and honor our nation’s veterans. But to those of us who wore the uniform, every day is Veterans Day. We are constantly flooded with thoughts and memories of places we served and the comrades who stood beside us. Yes, we remember. We remember what we went through. We remember what we were able to accomplish. We remember the good times. We remember the bad times. We remember it all.
But Veterans Day has to be about much more than remembering the past. It also is an opportunity to come together as veterans and decide what kind of future we want to build for ourselves and the nation we risked our lives for.
When we went to war, we went together—we trained together, we fought together. And except for our fallen or severely wounded comrades, we came home together. But now we’re home and we’ve gone our separate ways, and since separating, the billionaire class has been doing everything it can to keep us apart. You see, for as long as there have been wars, young men and women have been asked to leave their jobs, leave their families, pick up arms and go fight. And nearly always those who do the fighting have come from the working class. Yes, the working class and the veteran class are one in the same.
When we are abroad, we’re called heroes. When we came home, we were met with yellow ribbons and assured by politicians of all stripes that our service would not be in vain, that our sacrifices would be honored and that our country would have our backs.
What has come of those promises? Now that the parades are over, now that war doesn’t warrant a mention on the nightly news, how are we, the veteran class, faring? Well....
Statistics show veterans’ unemployment is going down. But the number of veterans in line at food banks is going up. In other words, many veterans are being forced to live on poverty wages. We fought a war overseas. Now the good jobs we need are potentially going to be shipped overseas by corporations and another unfair trade deal. We have politicians wanting to destroy and privatize our health care system and allow their billionaire friends to profit off the care of veterans.
Simply put: Now that they’re finished with us, we’re under attack. And we should not stand for it.
We should not stand the fact that so many of us fought to ensure our nation had a future and now, in some cases, we’re battling our own government to ensure we have a future of our own. We should not stand the fact that some of our brethren from the recent wars have sold out and use their status to attack fellow veterans. And we should not stand the fact that wages for veterans are being driven down while the fortunes of the billionaire class who have sacrificed nothing continues to grow.
But there’s good news: We can do something about it.
We can organize and again come together as we once did—not divided by the stoked flames of prejudice and bigotry, not quarreling over questions of Democrat and Republican. But together as sisters and brothers and together as the veteran class.
We can organize to fight a new war—our war: a war for our voice, our dignity and our future; a war against greed and against suffering.
That’s exactly what we are doing at the Union Veterans Council. Our job—our purpose—is simply to make the lives of veterans and working people better. To show that the issues facing veterans and those facing working families aren’t independent of each other. To mobilize so that when our service members take off their uniform they have access to a good job. To advocate so that they are able to access the health care we earned—health care delivered through a strong, fully funded and staffed Veterans Affairs.
We can do this. But only if we organize. And when we do organize, then not only will we fight together, we’ll also win together.
Will Fischer is the executive director of the Union Veterans Council, AFL-CIO. He’s a Marine Corps veteran of the war in Iraq and a member of the Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) District Council 51.