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Fifty-five years ago, in a speech to the convention of the Illinois AFL-CIO, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. laid out with characteristic moral clarity the essential role of unions in American life. “The labor movement,” he explained, “was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress … [When] the wave of union organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society. Civilization began to grow in the economic life of man, and a decent life with a sense of security and dignity became a reality rather than a distant dream.”

This Labor Day, America’s working families are facing unprecedented challenges.

The path to the presidency runs through the labor movement.

Longtime labor activist and leader Maria Elena Durazo is a familiar and beloved name to hundreds of thousands of union members and working people. She is vice president for UNITE HERE International Union, which represents more than 270,000 hospitality workers in the U.S. and Canada. And for almost a decade, 2006-2015, she was the first woman elected secretary-treasurer of the powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, representing the interests of more than 300 local unions.

Saying workers are buffeted by automation, globalization and robotics, which threaten high joblessness, and firms robbing them of bargaining power to fight back and get jobs in the looming new economy, the AFL-CIO launched a year-long study of the state of work and the state of U.S. unions.

Replying to a mandate from last year’s AFL-CIO convention, the new Commission on the Future of Work and Unions met at federation headquarters on May 3, first in a 3-hour morning public session, and then behind closed doors for the rest of the day.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership died because it ultimately failed America’s working families. Instead of addressing the economic devastation wreaked by wrong-headed trade deals, the TPP doubled down on a failed, corporate-driven ideology.

As walkouts by teachers protesting low pay and education funding shortfalls spread across the country, the small but growing movement to recruit teachers from overseas is another sign of the difficulty some districts are having providing the basics to public school students.

Never before has there been so much labor unrest in America’s public schools. Teachers, understandably angry about low pay and harmful cuts in education resources, have organized statewide walkouts in West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma.

When we fail to invest in public services, living standards decline and communities suffer — overcrowded classrooms, understaffed prisons and more.

But let’s remember what originally made public-sector jobs middle class: labor unions. The right to bargain collectively has allowed millions of public service workers like my father, a Cleveland bus driver and a member of the Amalgamated Transit Union, to live the American dream.

In any business, the people who do the work deserve to have a voice in their working conditions.

When we kiss our loved ones’ goodbye to head to work, we don’t expect tragedy. Saturday is Workers Memorial Day, a time for all of us to remember those who went to work but unfortunately never returned home because they lost their lives while on the job. It’s also a day to remember that we must keep fighting for safe workplaces and continue to fight short cuts that lawmakers are pursuing as they turn back the clock on health and safety regulations in Congress.