Unique among our federal holidays, Labor Day continues to evoke the same mixed American motives bringing it to national life in 1894. Boarding our high school history way-back machines for a moment, ’94 (the other, older one) was the very year some pesky worker-types tired of living on slave wages for their 12 hour, 6 day-a-week shifts in the ruthless Pullman Place Car Company town decided to strike. Following riots pitting federal troops, local cops and hired goons against labor, and after counting up 13 dead workers and 57 wounded, President Cleveland’s new national holiday was declared to make amends and celebrate the “strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.”
The More Things Change. . .
Returning to our vantage point this holiday, we see the same mixed motives and hasty sentiments at work in our presumably enlightened modern discourse. How often on a daily or weekly basis do we hear folks decrying those lazy, indolent, ungrateful union types with their pickups and powerboats and paid vacations? Could it be the never-ending, sub-sonic campaign to divide and conquer the 98 percent so they do the bidding of the oligarchs? Never mind that American labor has won our wars, fed our Nation and our planet, built our homes, schools, and places of work and worship, paid the bulk of our taxes, and forced a modicum of dignity and respect out of our corporate barons; who do these folks think they are? The answer is they are us, and we need more us and we need us now.
We all have a right to our opinions, but not our facts, and for all the anecdotal belly-aching about the labor movement, I can turn stomachs with tirades against lazy, indolent, ungrateful non-union service economy types screwing up my family’s simple order at the drive-thru. Factually speaking then, when our Nation was at her economic zenith in 1955, one-third of all jobs were in manufacturing, and nearly the same portion of workers were unionized. Today we see barely 12% of our economy in manufacturing, and an even more paltry portion still union. We have weathered outsourcing, robotics, high-tech, plant closings and relocations, NAFTA, AFTA, CAFTA, CARICOM, ASEAN, the Waltons (the newer, richer ones) and just plain greed and now we sit at Labor Day 2013 with 7.4% unemployment and 33 years of stagnant wages.
Memo to Management: SOS
Scanning the horizon for a trail out of the Valley of Misery, we can’t saddle up unless we know how we got down here, and we agree to follow one of us out. The fact is, you can’t lose 8 million total jobs, 2.8 of them in manufacturing, in 8 years and fix it in 48 months without some commonality of purpose and plain old neighborly help. And while this job help can come from the Fortune 500 who are currently hoarding $2-3 trillion in profits, it becomes increasingly obvious that upper management would prefer to hang on to the 40% increase in profits under President Obama in order to again goon his party in the coming mid-terms, just like 2010.
No matter our political stripe, we sometimes permit ourselves to forget that our elected officials are indeed our employees, and as such should be looking out for the collective interest of all 311 million of us bosses. The Senate Oath reads in part “I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.” So is this oath and the similar pledge for Congress being obeyed by certain leaders when they seek complicity with our new corporate masters in obfuscating every conceivable effort to foster the greatest good for the greatest number of Americans? Having blocked every administration effort to provide substantial, time-tested, verifiable job growth through small business legislation, tax code fairness, infrastructure investment, education and retraining, the Republican answer was to temporarily balloon the evil deficit by an additional $3.9 Trillion through an extension of the Bush II tax cuts for 2% of the richest among us; apparently that oath has a 98% failure rate. Thank God and the Dems for the Affordable Care Act and other measures which are bringing the deficits down at the fastest rate in a half-century.
Rounding Third and Headed for Home
Returning to the inconvenience of facts, those Bush II tax cuts didn’t create peace and prosperity, but were a hearty portion of the Adam Smith witch’s brew that cost the Nation 8 million taxable jobs, housing failure and near complete economic collapse. Tax cuts that may have momentarily worked under Kennedy occurred when our manufacturing base was flourishing and we all, management and labor, sang from the same folksy hymnal; a beautiful wood-cut in the Shrine Church outside Detroit reads “there can be no labor without capital, there can be no capital without labor.” The dark agendas of today’s corporate masters who seek refuge in far-flung, tax-free climes do not lend themselves to the general health of our citizens; this is not the sunny trail from the valley, but a path to a darker place where a chosen few enjoy justice, dignity and stability for their families.
Not because of, but in spite of the GOP, we have seen the Dow flirt with 15,000, record corporate profits, slowly sinking unemployment, sharply rising housing numbers, smaller deficits, and the glimmer of greater rather than lesser rights of dignity, equality and fairness for all Americans. So today, just for grins, saddle up and turn your weary eyes toward the trail head at peace in the knowledge that in 36 months short months we can find a new guide.
Happy Labor Day.