Celebrating the Much Despised Labor Day

5 Sep

Labor DaySince the Reagan era, we seem to have surrendered to what I would term an irrational, inexorable disdain for the laborer. Labor Day seems to have become a hollow holiday for some without a sense of history. Let us remember why it is important to celebrate and elevate the laborer. This is a time for us to reflect and look at how we value human beings; how we look at and address income disparities; how we address and look at people who are over-employed!

Yes, over-employed, those who have to work more than one job and still remain in poverty, while CEOs and those who enjoy being in the top echelon of corporations and organizations earn exponentially more than those who actually allow those organizations to sustain themselves. According to the Economic Policy Institute and Fortune, many top executives make over 300 times that of their employees, many of whom live at or below the poverty line. Yes, CEOs earn 20 times more than they did 20 years ago and 30 times more than they did 30 years ago. In fact, according to the Economic Policy Institute, “In between 1978 and 2014, inflation adjusted CEO pay increased by 1000%,” while the typical worker has only seen a possible 11% increase in that same time frame. That 11% means workers are now either earning the same as they earned in 1978 or even less, allowing executives to earn so much money that it is next to impossible to chart.

We saw the architecture of this with Ronald Reagan, who did his best to bust unions. You remember the union, the reason why we have a little something called a “weekend,” and an 8 hour workday, and protections against the exploitation of children workers. Unions: the reason  we hope to never witness another tragedy like the Triangle Shirtwaist Company.

Just a little history about Labor Day. Labor Day was started in 1882 by labor unions, but it would be many more years before it would be recognized as a Federal Holiday. Oregon was the first state to recognize and honor Labor Day in 1887.  Finally in 1894, under the Cleveland administration, it became a national holiday on the first Monday in September.  Congress passed it unanimously, a very rare event indeed. Today we have an opportunity to reflect on why we need to celebrate the laborer and to look at the maldistribution of wealth in the United States. It’s particularly important to note how Trump and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan show nothing but contempt, disdain, and even disgust for the laborer.

Many of us have been working in movements to increase the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour. This would be just a very small move forward and still does not address a living wage. Sadly, the common theme from Trump and Ryan and their ilk — remember, they aren’t as different as they’d like you to believe —  has been nothing less than hostile. They all seem to subscribe to the false notion of a meritocracy. Our current Republican controlled House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted against the equal pay act — the same people who want to throw out the Affordable Care Act and witness millions suddenly going without health care. All the while ALL of those in our congress have Cadillac insurance packages and earn a minimum of $174,000. Yes, you read that number correctly. Please watch this very short video of the maldistribution of wealth in the United States.

Labor Day isn’t just an excuse for a long weekend or a chance to grill an extra burger before autumn sets in. It’s a chance to reflect on the work that is done at all levels of our society and the value of all that labor. It’s a chance to celebrate the collaboration that makes work better and working conditions safer. In the words of the great Joe Hill (as sung by Billy Bragg)

Now I long for the morning that they realise
Brutality and unjust laws can not defeat us
But who’ll defend the workers who cannot organise
When the bosses send their lackeys out to cheat us?

Money speaks for money, the Devil for his own
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone
What a comfort to the widow, a light to the child

There is power in a Union.

Happy Labor Day to all who have to work today and that have no pension, no health benefits, and are at the poverty line. We must stand in solidarity!


19 Responses to “Celebrating the Much Despised Labor Day”

  1. Central Oregon Coast NOW September 5, 2016 at 6:42 am #

    Reblogged this on Central Oregon Coast NOW.

  2. NeuroNotes September 5, 2016 at 7:22 am #

    Excellent post. I read an article not long ago suggesting that Reagan’s strategy was most likely taken from the playbook of the Redeemers, a movement led by pro-business Southern politicians in the late 19th century who vowed to undo post-Civil War Reconstruction economic reforms.

    According to Douglas R. Egerton,a professor of history, and author of “The Wars of Reconstruction”, the Redeemers wanted to create a cheap labor force and low-tax environment throughout the South to entice Northern manufacturers to relocate to their region.

    Their pattern is the same today as it was with the 19th century Southern elite. It’s Southernomics, a strategy to weaken workers’ power and lure corporations with promises of low taxes and minimal regulation.

    Michael Lind, a historian, native Southerner and author of “Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States”, explains that Southernomics is spreading across the U.S. He further states:

    “Measures that would make life easier for ordinary workers — guaranteed health care, unemployment benefits, minimum wage laws — are all opposed under Southernomics because they make workers less dependent on their employers. If you have free universal health care and free education supported by public school taxes, then you have more bargaining power with your bosses.

    But if everything is privatized, and ordinary Americans have to pay for everything through their wages, then they’re at the mercy of their employers. If the workers know they’ll be ruined if they lost their jobs, they’re not going to be uppity. You want to break their spirit.”

    Every Southern state is a “right-to-work” state, which means it has laws that make it more difficult for unions to organize. While there is a national movement to raise the federal minimum wage, there are still five states (I live in one of them) that have refused to adopt a state minimum wage. All of them are in the South — Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee.

    So it should come as no surprise that Southern residents have the lowest healthy life expectancy of any U.S. citizens regardless of race, according to the Centers for Disease Control. They also have the lowest quality of life, and the highest poverty.

    According to this multivariate analysis by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Develop, which took into account a plethora of indicators of societal well-being, the South was ranked the worst place to live in U.S. I suspect that if Trump wins, and the GOP has full reign, America will become like the worst state in the Union, Mississippi, having 3rd World country status.

    Happy Labor Day.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt September 5, 2016 at 7:51 am #

      Great comments here. Thank you also for taking the time to provide this additional helpful information. What an awful legacy Reagan has created. Peace, Michael.

  3. NeuroNotes September 5, 2016 at 7:27 am #

    Oops, Michael I missed up a quote tag. Would you please edit, fix the tag so that it doesn’t show the rest of my comment as a quote. Sorry about that. Close the quote at “You want to break their spirits” Thank you. 🙂

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt September 5, 2016 at 7:50 am #

      No problem. I can’t edit someone’s post, but I will leave your additional comment to help readers. Cheers,Michael.

      • NeuroNotes September 5, 2016 at 7:52 am #

        OK, thanks. Must be the type of template you have that prevents you from editing a comment? I also meant to write “messed up”, Lol

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt September 5, 2016 at 7:56 am #

        Thank you again for taking the time to reply with such a thoughtful comment that provided much needed information. I hope all will read your comment here. Peace, Michael.

      • NeuroNotes September 5, 2016 at 7:59 am #

        Thank you for all you do as an advocate and activist, to help make this world a better place for all.

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt September 5, 2016 at 8:00 am #

        Thank you for your exceedingly kind words here. Sadly, I fear I am never really doing enough. Peace, Michael.

      • NeuroNotes September 5, 2016 at 8:07 am #

        “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead


      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt September 5, 2016 at 8:12 am #

        I love Margaret Meade and love this quote from her. Peace, 🙂

      • chaplynn03 September 12, 2016 at 9:27 pm #

        none of us can do enough Michael, yet as said below by Margaret Mead… we can do it together, holding each other up.

  4. Kathleen Saadat September 5, 2016 at 10:19 am #

    Thank you for taking the time to write this. I suspect that many Americans do not know that the working hours, sickleave, holidays, safety protection’s have come from the efforts of organized workers/laborers. I suspect that somebody even believe employers, out of the goodness of their hearts, extended these rights to their workers with a smile. Truth is, each of these “benefits” came at a cost just some individual or group. Every student should be required to learn about the history of the labor movement in the USA, and the racial strife that surrounded that movement. That stripe could not deny the power in the collective action of people who work for a living. Every American should know about the pullman porters and the farmworkers at Harney County.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt September 5, 2016 at 2:58 pm #

      Kathleen, as always, you leave me in awe! Would that you would come out of retirement again and teach at university! I’m so grateful to you and your mentorship of me. In solidarity and enormous love, Michael.

  5. chaplynn03 September 12, 2016 at 9:27 pm #

    Thank you for this post Michael! As a former Wisconsinite I cannot help but think of all the work done for the labor movement there and now Scottie Walker is taking it back one benefit at a time. He’s been doing it for a while, and I still can’t understand why he wasn’t recalled. I think you and Kathleen Saadat are so right that most people have no idea where Labor Day came from, and that there was a time when there was no weekend for working people. When I lived in Vermont and was headed to the airport I would drive by the old mills in Manchester, NH were people, often children, worked six days a week, children, and were required to go to church on Sunday!

    Katherine Paterson wrote a great children’s book on this. “Lyddie”is the fictional, but very real story about a child working to pay her family’s debts in a mill in Lowell, Mass. I love how literature can tell the story with a punch! Good reading for all.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt September 13, 2016 at 5:57 am #

      As always, you provide such thoughtful and though provoking comments. Peace, Michael.

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