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What Labor Day Stands For


Few Americans really stop to think what Labor Day represents.

At the end of the 19th century, huge industrialists reigned supreme.

Labor unions fought for and won a great number of the employment protections and perks that we enjoy today.

Unions continue to fight to  this day to benefit all working men and women.

If you like your weekends, thank a union.

If you like paid vacations, thank a union.

If you like child labor laws, thank a union.

Pensions and health care benefits? Ditto.

(Full disclosure, I have been a Teamster, and a former member of The Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild).

Labor unions and workers in general quite literally built this country, and they have been under constant assault by moneyed powers the whole time.

In the late 19th century, Labor Day started as part of an effort by President Grover Cleveland to put an end to the bloody Pullman Strike .

Organized labor paid in blood, sweat and misery for what we take for granted today. They still help make sure the excesses of Capitalism don’t crush American workers.

The efforts of workers and the circumstances of World War II helped create and expand the middle class in America, and the country’s strong manufacturing base set the stage for prosperity that lasted into the late 70s.

Robert Reich reminds us of how things started going south:

This crisis began decades ago when a new wave of technology — things like satellite communications, container ships, computers and eventually the Internet — made it cheaper for American employers to use low-wage labor abroad or labor-replacing software here at home than to continue paying the typical worker a middle-class wage.

Despite all of the moaning and wailing of the right about how evil unions are, try to image America without the unions. If you’re honest in your reflection, you wouldn’t find much to like about that country.

Unfortunately, the picture Reich and other writers are painting this holiday weekend is bleak.  American workers are facing tougher and tougher times. Jobs are being outsourced by companies that benefit from tax breaks (for headquartering their companies in the United States), union representation is lower than ever, and the right is pulling out all stops to break organized labor completely.

Witness the Fox propaganda network’s stable of corporate whores in their 24-hour-a-day, shock-and-awe campaign against unions, with the requisite ongoing cheerleading for policies that take away security and quality of life from all but the richest Americans.

From the always educational Media Matters for America:

[Fox Messianic Personality Glenn] Beck accused Dolores Huerta, an 80-year-old labor activist who co-founded the United Farm Workers with César Chávez, of “indoctrinating our children” because she spoke at a high school. Beck also criticized the Labor Department for spending money on what he called a “catchy tune” that included Labor Secretary Hilda Solis saying, “You work hard, and you have the right to be paid fairly,” and, “[I]t is a serious problem when workers in this country are not being paid every cent they earn.”

Ironically, many of the enraged consumers of Fox & Fiends’ daily onslaught are detrimentally affected by the same policies they are led zombie-like to rally for.

Thomas Frank’s terrific book, What’s The Matter With Kansas explores this phenomenon in detail, and it makes one throw their hands up in frustration.

What's The Matter With Kansas

When you see stuff like this coming from the right, think about how they bluster about “real Americans” and then take a close look at what their policies do for the prospects of working men and women and their families.

Leo Gerard over at Campaign For America’s Future brings it home. Referring to the Wall Street banksters and the obscenely wealthy who brought us this economic disaster, he states:

Still, they believe they haven’t taken enough from working Americans. They’re lobbying to end aid for those who remain unemployed in a recession caused by Wall Street recklessness. And they’re demanding extension of their Bush-given tax breaks. This is the nation’s upper 1 percent, people who earn a million or more each year, the 1 percent that took home 56 percent of all income growth between 1989 and 2007, the year the recession began.

I think that he’s exactly right about how we should celebrate Labor Day:

But fury doesn’t solve the problem. This Labor Day, we must organize to save ourselves and our neighbors. We must stop America from descending into plutocracy. We must demand support for American manufacturing and middle class jobs. That means terminating tax breaks for corporate outsourcers, ending trade practices that violate agreements and international law and punishing predator countries for currency manipulation that subverts fair trade by artificially lowering the price of products shipped into the U.S. while artificially raising the price of American exports.

The realization of the above would go a long way to restoring the rapidly-disappearing American middle class. It is the antithesis of the desires of the uber-wealthy banksters and corporate players whose perverse parody of the American Dream made Gordon Gecko (the cold-hearted bastard at the center of Oliver Stone’s film “Wall Street”) into a hero.

“Greed is good” is their mantra, and they grease palms to further deregulate banks, ship our livelihoods overseas and stick to the rest of us.

American workers aren’t greedy. They just want the same things their parents had in the 1960s and 1970s — a house, some vacation time each year, enough to afford food, clothing and healthcare. They want to be secure in their retirement and able to send their kids to college. They just want a fair shake. This was always the American Dream — not the obscene accumulation of wealth at the expense of everyone else.

Have a Happy Labor Day, but take some time to consider the reason for the holiday, and decide if you’re on the side of taking America back from the BPs, Lehman Brothers, Citi Groups, Jack Abramoffs and the Bear Stearns — or if you’re with the majority of the American people who were left holding the bag.

You would be in good company if you side with labor — under the most trying circumstances, American workers have accomplished amazing things.

If enough realize how they’ve gotten the short end of the stick, and exactly who it is holding the other end, we might see a true grassroots movement that will make the Fox-sponsored astro-turf rallies hosted by Beck et al shrink into well-deserved obscurity.
But only if.

-Chris

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September 5, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

2 Comments »

  1. Your comments on Labor Day and what labor unions mean to this country are right on target. Thanks for posting this.

    Comment by Peggy | September 9, 2010 | Reply

    • Thanks, Peggy. The onslaught against working people and the middle class has reached new heights. I would like to think there is a will to take America back to the days when the middle class was strong, but globalization has taken the wind out of labor’s sails.

      Comment by wcward57 | September 9, 2010 | Reply


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