The True Meaning of Labor Day: Strength in Numbers

Accomplishments of the Labor Movement Image

This Labor Day, as those fortunate enough to have a job are celebrating a well-deserved day off, and millions others are travailing the uncertainty of life during 30 years of the Reaganomics War against the middle class, let’s not forget the workers who fought, bled and died to create a better quality of life for themselves, their families and those yet to be born.

Regardless of the Faux News propaganda that has some convinced that we live and die under the graciousness of our benevolent “betters,” everything good about our standard of living came as a result of the organized labor movement.

Despite Abraham Lincoln’s assertion, “Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration”…  The modern Republican agenda can be boiled down to 2 words: CHEAP LABOR.

If Capitalists can no longer exploit slaves, they will seek to pay workers the least amount they can get away with for the sake of profit.   The history of Capitalism is merciless.   It enslaved nations, split up families and left generations in poverty suffering with broken backs and broken minds.

Yet, many see Capitalism as mankind’s salvation, allowing us to conquer nature, raise our standard of living and ensure long-term prosperity.  To perpetuate that meme, however, those pure Capitalists develop a plethora of excuses to explain the disparity in economic standards between the “haves and the have-nots.”   Not doing well in this capitalistic system?  Well, it must be because you’re lazy, stupid or bad.   Have you fallen between the cracks?  You only have yourself to blame.  Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and marry a beer heiress.   Work harder!  Maybe your father can give you another oil business to run into the ground or give you a baseball team.   Trample by under the merciless Capitalist system?  You have only yourself to blame.  We Capitalists are too busy making money off the backs of laborers to care.

Inherent in Capitalism, is a lack of compassion and mechanisms to crush humanistic programs – like basic universal health care.   In this system, nothing is worth doing unless some rich bankster can make a buck.

The Indian poet, linguist, and philosopher Shrii Prabhat R. Sarkar described Capitalism, “A few become rich and others become poor.  In such a situation, millions die without food, live without shelter, work without education, suffer without medicine and move without proper clothing.  The society then splits into two distinct groups the haves and have-nots. The former is the class of exploiters ‘the capitalists’ and the latter is the class of ‘the exploited’ the disgruntled workers…. So the unchecked psychic urges and psychic pabula for material acquisition end in merciless exploitation. The inhuman exploitation causes the mass-level deprivation of millions of people. The curse of capitalism engulfs the whole of society. Thus capitalism is anti-human.”

Ideally, into this greed-centered, voracious vacuum, workers must step with the only strength they have – the power of their numbers.  Through their government of “We the People”, Capitalism needs regulation and restraint if the system is to work for everyone.   Totalitarian China, now the largest economy on Earth, is an example of the fact that Capitalism is not synonyms with “freedom” and works a lot smoother for those at the top who benefit if workers have limited power.   In fact, it can be argued that in the wake of the 30 year assault on the American worker, the economy of the United States, with the 3rd widest gap between the rich and poor on the planet - wider than the time before the FIRST Republican Great Depression – is resembling more of an Oligarchic feudal state than a vibrant democratic republic.

Before the labor movement, workers—men, women and children—put in 10 to 16 hour days, seven days a week – many times under unsafe working conditions with little compensation or time to even enjoy life itself.   Labor organizers called on the government to mandate shorter hours.   Workers banded together, and many lost their lives in the struggle.   Powerful business owners fought violently against every concession.  At Haymarket Square in Chicago, police gunned down protesters, hanging some for inflammatory speeches.

But the labor movement continued to fight and die for worker’s rights and reshaped the face of America.  Today we take their victories for granted and institutional amnesia enables the same forces of Capitalist interests to slowly divide the people and whittle away their hard-won gains.

The American middle class, created by and made vibrant through New Deal polices, is under assault and feeling the pain.

Former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, wrote in a column titled “The Real Lesson of Labor Day,”

“The Great Depression and its aftermath demonstrate that there is only one way back to full recovery: through more widely shared prosperity. In the 1930s, the American economy was completely restructured. New Deal measures — Social Security, a 40-hour work week with time-and-a-half overtime, unemployment insurance, the right to form unions and bargain collectively, the minimum wage — leveled the playing field.

In the decades after World War II, legislation like the G.I. Bill, a vast expansion of public higher education and civil rights and voting rights laws further reduced economic inequality. Much of this was paid for with a 70 percent to 90 percent marginal income tax on the highest incomes. And as America’s middle class shared more of the economy’s gains, it was able to buy more of the goods and services the economy could provide. The result: rapid growth and more jobs.

By contrast, little has been done since 2008 to widen the circle of prosperity. Health-care reform is an important step forward but it’s not nearly enough.”

According to The Democratic Policy Committee website:

• The minimum wage has remained stagnant while Congress and the President have received raises.

• Wages for average Americans have not kept up with productivity.  Americans are working harder and expanding the economy but are not seeing a return on their efforts in the form of higher salaries.

• While corporate profits are up, worker earnings are down.

• The average CEO earns 821 times more than the average minimum wage earner.  That is, one CEO earns more before lunch on a single day than a minimum wage worker earns all year.

• The cost of living has skyrocketed.

Unable to make ends meet, millions of working Americans are living in poverty.

• Despite what right-wing propaganda tells you, most minimum wage earners are full-time, adult workers.

Read the rest of these stats here.

After a 10-year battle, Democrats in congress finally were victorious in raising the federal minimum wage from $5.15/hour to $7.25/hour in three steps over two years.   A full-time worker making $7.25 an hour earns $15,080 a year.  At those wages, the American Dream – to own a home, a car, vacation twice a year, send yourself and your kids to college, have insurance for sickness and retire in safety, is merely a pipe dream.

This is the reality of the world we live in.  As discouraging as it may be, lets honor those who fought and died for the late-great American middle class by coming together again to win back the ground we have lost.

Let’s remember the labor movement’s greatest accomplishments so far:

  • • End child labor
  • • Establish the legal right of workers to form unions and collectively bargain for wages, benefits and working conditions
  • • Establish the 8 hour work day and paid overtime
  • • Win workers’ comp benefits for workers injured on the job
  • • Secure unemployment insurance for workers who lose their jobs
  • • Secure a guaranteed minimum wage
  • • Improve workplace safety and reduce on the job fatalities
  • • Win pensions for workers
  • • Win health care insurance for workers
  • • Win paid sick leave, vacations, and holidays as standard benefits for most workers
  • • Win the right for public sector workers to collectively bargain
  • • Win passage of the Civil Right Acts and Title VII which outlaws job discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin
  • • Win passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act
  • • Win passage of the Family Medical Leave Act

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