The War on Labor Day

Posted: December 29, 2011 in Less Than 70
Tags: , , , , , ,

The first Monday of September honors a fine American tradition. On this day, which marks the transition from summer to fall, Americans across this great nation honor the American worker. Since 1882, when the first Labor Day was celebrated in New York City, people have gathered to recognize the contributions made by American workers to our collective social and economic achievement. Indeed, the vital force of the American worker has added to the highest standard of living the world has ever known.

But Labor Day doesn’t feel like Labor Day anymore. From its humble beginnings in New York City, this tradition spread from city to city, from state to state; by 1894, Labor Day was a national holiday. People came together to remember workers’ sacrifices by hosting parades; they listened to speeches that extolled the virtues of labor; communities came forward to say “thank you” to those virtuous men and women who built this country and added to its great wealth with their sweat and toil.

Today, however, there is an ongoing war against Labor Day. The plutocrats and oligarchs that own the political process have waged an unrelenting assault on this noble holiday. By attacking Labor Day, this tiny minority wishes to strip the American workers of their dignity, and erase the sacrifices labor has made to help America live up to its promise. It is an attack on labor itself, on the dignity of work, and the history of our nation. In its stead, the plutocrats and oligarchs are indoctrinating the people with their antisocial dogmas of conspicuous consumption, greed, and exploitation.

We no longer hear speeches by organized labor anymore. The ubiquitous Labor Day parade has lost its unique characteristics, having devolved into an insipid clone of the 4th of July Parade or Memorial Day parade. Labor Day is subsumed under the umbrella of a civic festival that marks the end of summer. The parades that once served to honor the long struggle for workers’ rights are now little more than an addendum to weekend-long “Fall Fling” celebrations. No longer do we hear speeches reminding us of the battles fought for the just and favorable working conditions we now take for granted. Rather, these festivals feature carnivals and concerts that ignore our responsibility to remember our past and traditions. These indulgences have stripped Labor Day of its true meaning.

This onslaught on this privileged holiday by the plutocrats and oligarchs has finally begun to bear fruit. Union membership is in decline, and fewer Americans than ever value the labor movement. Only 52% of Americans see unions as a force for good. This is  down from an all time high of 75% in the 1950s. Meanwhile, 42% of Americans disapprove of labor unions, up from an all time low of 14%. The plutocrats and oligarchs are succeeding in stripping away Americans their hard-won rights, and seek to transform the American worker into an indentured servant.

The Founding Fathers understood the importance of the right to organize, and enshrined this principle in the Bill of Rights with the 1st Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law . . . or [abridging] the right of the people peaceably to assemble ; and to petition the Government for the redress of grievances.”

The right to form unions–that is, to “peaceably assemble”–and the right for public employee unions to collectively bargain–that is, to “petition the Government for the redress of grievances”–are surely protected by the Constitution. Furthermore, the 9th Amendment guarantees that rights not explicitly enumerated in the Constitution–such as the right to favorable working conditions, equal pay, rest and leisure, and an adequate standard of living, are retained by the people.  The attacks by the plutocrats and oligarchs clearly go against the intent and vision of our Founding Fathers.

The Founding Fathers envisioned a productive, industrious nation where workers formed the backbone of the economy (after all, how many of them earned a fortune from the toil of chattel slavery?). Throughout our nation’s great history, workers have done for themselves what the state has failed to do: create and maintain a vibrant middle class, providing evidence that the national pursuit for happiness is making progress. This is the real reason the plutocrats and oligarchs hate organized labor: unions help ensure a more just and equitable economy, and in turn, a more just and equitable society. Knowing this, the tycoons who have usurped our democracy and subjected us to the tyranny of greed wage an ongoing war against the American worker, sterilizing the fertility of labor.

Labor Day itself may be a casualty of that war.

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