As we enter the ‘Labor Day Weekend,’ now – more than any time in recent history – we should reflect on just why we celebrate American Labor. At a time when the very survival of “organized labor” is in jeopardy and at its lowest levels of membership in decades, we must ask why? Is it because of the unbridled power and corruption of the “union bosses,” as the far-right would have us believe? Or is it the steady erosion of worker rights, through job outsourcing and the loss of 50,000 factories in 10 years to China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, etc.?
These are nations where labor union simply do not exist as they do here; where worker rights and job safety and health is atrocious. Long hours for slave-wages are standard and job safety and security unheard of, as well as pension benefits for an old age with security and dignity. Who, exactly, is profiting from this change in the American economic landscape? Oh sure, there are some average middle-class Americans who profit through IRA account money, pension funds invested in major American corporations most responsible for job outsourcing. But more and more, it is the venture capitalists, the hedge fund managers, and the poorly regulated banks and investment brokers that are causing America to ‘reap the whirlwind’ of slave-labor profits gleaned from factories abroad. They get rich, we lose our jobs.
America used to be a nation that made things. Goods and services admired for their quality and safety. Now we are reduced to a service-based economy. When World War II broke out as German tanks rolled into Poland on September 1, 1939, America, still recovering from the long-term unemployment of the Great Depression, (caused by Wall Street speculators. Sound familiar?), became the “Arsenal Of Democracy.” Our factories were suddenly booming and cranking out ships and planes and tanks to defeat Fascism, until we ourselves were drawn into the conflict on December 7, 1941.
Could we rise to a similar challenge today if confronted with a real threat? Not a threat from Afghanistan, a ‘nation’ still living in a self-imposed Dark Ages, but a threat, say, from China, now training and preparing for a 21st Century cyber-war and developing missiles specifically designed to kill our fleet of aircraft carriers? I wonder. Coming out of the Great Depression and extending into and beyond World War II, America worked as a smooth running machine, our industrial might and national teamwork hummed and allowed us to prevail over Fascist Germany, Italy and Japan and then, we rebuilt Europe through the far-sighted brilliance of the Marshall Plan.
A Republican president and war hero, Dwight David Eisenhower furthered our industrial progress and collective might and, with fair taxes, built the Interstate Highway System, modeled after, of all things, Hitler’s Autobahn. That which the tyrant and madman built to provide full employment and to facilitate conquest and invasion (the roads are designed to bear the weight of tanks), Ike built to bind a nation closer together and improve its economy and vitality. It succeeded brilliantly.
Today, we can’t even agree to improve our antiquated railway system let alone repair and replace our road and bridges and schools. We are rapidly becoming a mirror image of the ‘fall of the Roman Empire’; extended wars abroad and inattention to our own people and prosperity at home. History, my friends, does repeat itself.
This then brings me to what we just witnessed last week in Tampa and our 2012 Labor Day. A central theme of the Republican Convention was the mindless chant “We Built It.” A knee-jerk response to a single solitary comment their ‘Public Enemy #1′, Barack Obama, uttered at a campaign stop in Pennsylvania . The comment was taken entirely out of context and – in fact – merely echoed a perhaps more eloquently stated, yet factually correct statement made last year by Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic Senatorial Candidate in Massachusetts; A statement which reflects that American economic success and vitality is not the false, ‘trickle-down’ wealth from the rich. For modern industrial capitalism to flourish it takes an entire system, an infrastructure to facilitate all of the facets of a free market. This is not some idealistic Socialism…this is economic realism. Although Ms. Warren didn’t dwell on the labor aspects of the equation, they cannot be denied or ignored.
When will Americans wake up and realize that Ronald Reagan was dead wrong…government isn’t “the problem,” nor the enemy of the people. American Government IS THE PEOPLE! Or at least that’s what the founders envisioned and what our first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed in 1863 in his famous Gettsyburg Address (perhaps the greatest speech in American History), “And that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” Where have we gone astray as one collective people?
Labor Day is the perfect time to reflect and rededicate ourselves to a common purpose, rather than pursue the Ayn Rand – ‘every man for himself’ – philosophy, which has seized control of one of our two major political parties. If we don’t…and don’t do it soon…I recommend we start teaching our children Chinese and sooner than you might imagine.
NO,…YOU DIDN’T BUILD IT. WE ALL BUILT IT!
There is a central flaw in this new Republican ideology…that government serves no useful purpose (except the military…which ironically is the most bloated and corrupt segment). ‘Government wants to tell me how my products must be tested for consumer safety, packaged and advertised for honesty, marketed for fairness and taxed to keep the whole system going.’
And Labor? ‘Why, they demand to be paid for their work, to be compensated fairly for their skill and loyalty. They expect safe working conditions and health benefits for when they’re sick and can’t make my products. Then, when they’re tired, they want breaks and vacations and holidays so they can spend time with their families and tend to their needs. How dare they! They didn’t invest their money in my business.’ How true…but was it all your money, Mr. “Job Creator?”
More often than not, it was money entrusted to you by others…private investors, banks and, yes…government! So then, Elizabeth Warren and President Obama were right, you didn’t build it…at least not entirely on your own! As in all things factual and scientific, the new Republican Party is contrarian when it serves their narrow purpose and that purpose is to dismantle the New Deal.
That my friends is why we have organized labor. That is why – on the first Monday in September – we celebrate its struggles and sacrifices and honor the memory of those who fought for the many facets of daily life we now take for granted. The eight-hour work day, the 40-hour work-week, overtime, health and welfare benefits, workers compensation, unemployment insurance, safety standards, sick pay, vacation pay, child labor laws.
The very history and nature of human greed demands that we remember and honor and preserve Organized Labor. If our American Society has come down to the 1% versus the 99%…or even the 10% versus the 90%, where hereditary wealth (the “freedom” demanded by “job creators” of the new Republican Party…no tax on investment income, no corporate tax or inheritance tax)…then we are no longer a “representative democracy” and no more a nation with “liberty and justice for all.” I would remind my Republican friends of the very basic tenets of Capitalism…supply and demand. Without worker rights and fairness, there are no people to buy your products or use your services and create your wealth…only slaves and masters.
And it is no longer the America of Lincoln, the founding father of the Republican Party, nor the “Christian” nation you say you want it to be…within the meaning and teachings of Jesus Christ.
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