Monday, September 7, 2015

Labor Day -- Past and Future

"Labor--human activity that provides the goods and services in an economy; [or] service performed by workers for wages..."

The earliest record of a Labor Day celebration goes back to 1882 in New York, sponsored by the local carpenters' union. Not until 1887 did Congress establish the first Monday of each September as a day to commemorate and celebrate labor in the United States. The recognition of labor by Congress, however, did not stop many of labor's problems in the 19th Century. When public employees in New York attempted a mass demonstration in 1888 to demand an 8-hour work day, they were attacked by the New York police department and many were shot.    

Tim Lyne, writing for a publication called "Gawkers," has written that Labor Day is a rip-off and nothing more than a reason for getting drunk in your yard.  Hopefully, Labor Day means more to most Americans than Mr. Lyne's assessment.

Unfortunately, organized labor and laboring people in general have been on a steady decline in the past few years.  The influence of organized labor has taken a serious nosedive in the past decade, and apparently continues to wane.  The wage disparity between people who labor for a living and the wealthy in America has greatly widened and continues to grow.

CEOs and managers of large corporations earn as high as $20-25 million per year while many workers struggle to exist on $7.00 an hour, many working two jobs to make ends meet. Part of labor's problem and declining influence can be laid to the attack on labor beginning with Ronald Reagan's firing of air controllers and other measures such as the Governor ofWisconsin’s attack on public employees and unionization.

The real problem, however, is the fact that quite possibly organized labor has done too great a job of empowering a part of the labor force, while leaving the other behind. Highly skilled union workers such as electricians, operating engineers, and refinery operators enjoy extremely high wages and benefits while others such as fast food workers, Wal-Mart employees and many government employees continue to lag. Many pensions, both public and private, are grossly underfunded and on shaky ground.

Political policies continue to make the wealth gap even worse. Our tax policy provides that the wealthier you become, the less percentage of your income must be dedicated to taxes. While politicians claim to revere hard work and the sweat of laboring people, investment of money is treated far better than regular wages earned by workers for tax purposes. Medicare and Social Security have been underfunded and ignored for years while health care costs accelerate and lead to more bankruptcies than any other cause in America.

The prospects for working people in America do not appear to be any rosier than they were several years ago.  In my opinion, this is primarily because too many former working people who have supposedly "made it" and enjoy great pensions--mostly brought about by organized labor--have forgotten their roots, or have turned their backs on the organizations most responsible for their current, comfortable status in life. And, too many working folks either fail to take the trouble to go vote, or fail to determine which politician's interests coincides with theirs. 

I am constantly amazed and appalled at working people who vote for members of a party which would dismantle their Social Security, help destroy the retirement programs they have earned, slam the courthouse door preventing jury trials for those who have suffered abuse, disease, or injuries while their employers enjoy vast profits.

Labor Day should be a day of reflection by all as to the honor we should bestow on those who have built a great nation and have created a social environment second to no other nation in the world--and to the policies which could destroy the underpinning of it all.

Happy Labor Day.  I can only hope we have many more.

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