Labor Day: Exploring America’s Most Misunderstood Holiday

Sep 05 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Of all the national holidays in the United States, Labor Day is certainly the most misunderstood. Traditionally, it marks the end of summer and the start of the school year. In high society, it used to mark the last day when it was fashionable for a woman to wear white. The holiday has particular importance this year because the GOP has been on a tear to break unions and destroy the working class’s ability to attain to the American dream of home ownership, a college education, and security in old age. The modern celebration really has nothing whatsoever to do with American workers; it is mostly about the start of football season, end of vacations, and picnics replete with beer-swilling and weenie-roasts (important American things). However, the origin of the holiday had a different meaning to the country and particularly American workers and industry.

Labor Day became an official federal holiday in 1894 after Congress rushed legislation through following the deaths of workers at the hands of the U.S. military and U.S. Marshals during the Pullman Strike. It was a type of reconciliation between the labor movement and President Grover Cleveland and it was passed unanimously by Congress and signed into law six days after the end of the strike. The government outlined appropriate methods of celebration that included a street parade to exhibit to the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations,” and it was to be followed by a festival for workers and their families. If those early workers and labor organizations were alive today, they would be shocked and dismayed at the way the GOP was devastating labor and that their sacrifices would be shown to be totally wasted and sadly in vain.

All industry today owes a debt of gratitude to American workers and their dedication to disloyal and thankless corporations. In every industry, profits are at record levels, productivity is up, and worker compensation is rapidly decreasing to the point that a living wage is nearly a thing of the past. Republicans have demonized organized labor as the reason the economy is struggling and the job market is non-existent when in fact it is the GOP-promoted outsourcing of Americans’ jobs that bears the lion’s share of the blame. Conservatives have long sought to destroy organized labor to enrich corporations that lobby to eliminate the minimum wage and worker protections, child labor laws, and worker benefits like sick leave, health care, and retirement benefits.

The ascendance of Republican administrations in states like Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan have brought union busting and accusations that school teachers, police officers, and firefighters are draining state resources that could be better used to give corporations and the wealthy tax breaks. The media is complicit in hurting labor and American jobs by failing to report the number of jobs being outsourced to China, South Korea, and India at the behest of Republicans in Congress and particularly the United States Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber’s president has said often that his organization would encourage corporations to relocate back to America if workers would take Chinese wages and the government eliminated all environmental protections so this country more closely resembled Communist China with $1 an hour wages, 80 hour work weeks, toxic air and water, and zero worker protections. It is exactly what corporations yearn for and Republicans are trying desperately to sell to American voters.

What American workers fail to recognize is that the 40 hour work week, weekends, lunch breaks, and safe working conditions are in place because of organized labor; in other words, unions. In China, at factories that produce computer assembly lines, companies and the government have installed safety nets to prevent the workers from falling to their deaths. They are not falling from the interior of the buildings, they are breaking out windows and jumping to their deaths rather than work in conditions that make suicide more desirable to living at the factory and working 12-hour shifts seven days a week. Yes, that is what the Chamber of Commerce, Republicans, and every American multi-national corporation have in store for Americans if the GOP has their way.

It is sad that Americans are so stupid to think that it is better to work for eighty hours a week for a pittance, live in company towns, shop at company stores, and barely subsist in poverty and squalor than earn a living wage in a safe environment. Two of the Republican presidential candidates, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, have proposed eliminating the federal minimum wage because they say it is unconstitutional and is hampering job growth. Bachmann in particular wants to eliminate corporate tax to help corporations that, because of increased worker productivity, have realized record profits while paying little or no tax on their profits.

On this Labor Day, Americans will swill beer and eat hot dogs made in factories that use undocumented immigrants and never comprehend that the only reason they have the day off is because of organized labor. There will not be any Republicans making speeches recognizing American labor or the unions that sacrificed to afford workers basic human rights at the workplace. Instead, they are working feverishly to undo worker rights so corporations and wealthy industrialists can continue earning record profits while they ship more Americans’ jobs out of the country and lobby to destroy unions.

Americans do not recognize that America is the only country in the developed world that does not offer mandatory vacations, healthcare, maternity leave, and various other benefits that Americans consider special treats. American workers continue increasing their productivity at the same time they are taking lower wages and fewer benefits just to feed their families. Republicans promote American exceptionalism and they are correct; it is exceptional that in the richest country on the planet, workers give more and expect less all because Republicans have convinced idiot voters that until corporations take and own every asset in America, they are at a disadvantage. The worst part is, Americans who support the GOP have not yet seen the deplorable conditions that await them as soon as Republicans control the House, Senate, and the White House. It is another example of American voters’ ingenuity…killing their own workers’ rights with every new Republican legislator.


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