Thank the Unions for Labor Day

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Top photo by Tim Forkes

Labor Day — Does anybody care? The holiday was created by labor unions to commemorate the men and women who give their blood and sweat to the nation’s greatest religion— commerce and capitalism.

Samuel Gompers, co-founder of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), said Labor Day: “… is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation.”

Peter J. McGuire, another co-founder of the AFL, said we should honor the working people, “… who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.”

Yeah … Yet, in the 21st century the American worker is becoming more and more poverty-stricken with fewer and fewer benefits.

A hundred years ago a person could be killed for trying to unionize. Didn’t matter which party occupied the White House or controlled Congress, Big Business held both in its pockets. No, they couldn’t have the workers demanding a seat at the table, then insisting on a livable wage with benefits, a 40-hour work week, weekends, overtime pay, health care, due process when it came to company disciplinary actions. It was all about more and more profits while dominating a slave-like workforce that had no influence in economic matters.

We still have the parades with crowds along and speeches. Many still get a day off from work, this first Monday of September.

Our current president has (mostly) been a friend to the working person and unions. He’s also a politician who doesn’t like to disrupt the coffee cart. For much of his nearly 50 years in public life he’s tried to balance the whims of Big Business with the needs of the working class. Whenever possible he’s bent to the side of the unions, even when the unions themselves were trending more conservative.

Many of us remember the Reagan years. President Ronnie let everyone know what he thought about unions and the labor movement when he fired all the air traffic controllers. Then the GOP went about convincing the rank and file it was the unions that were forcing the factories to close in America and then relocate off shore or to a state with anti-union government. It wasn’t the greed of the 1% and Big Business. The multinational corporations were always greedy … Union membership has been declining ever since, along with the wages and benefits of the working class.

President Biden has been watching the decline of the middle class for decades, watching the working class lose economic leverage as the extremely wealthy and big corporations amass more of the economic pie.

According to testimony from economist Elise Gould for the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, the top 1% incomes grew five times faster than the bottom 90% of incomes. Change in real annual average household income, by income group, from 1979 through 2015: the top 1% income grew 229% and the bottom 90% grew 46%. The rate of inflation over that same time period was 3.20% per year on average. Your money is only worth 27% of what it was worth in 1979.

It’s no coincidence that decline in real income happened — and is happening — as the union membership and power has declined. We need to reverse that trend and the way to do it is with unions.

Just a few weeks ago one of the titans of the union movement, Richard Trumka, died. He had been a mine worker who earned his law degree — and then went back to work in the coal mines for a few years so he could be eligible to for international union offices. When he died Trumka was the president of the AFL-CIO. I didn’t agree with Trumka on everything, but I never doubted his commitment to the working men and women of America, whether they were union or not.

Congress can do a lot to help the working class of this nation and President Biden can stand up for the middle class and honor his friend Richard Trumka with legislation to increase the minimum wage in America and remove the barriers to voting as well as union organizing. A green infrastructure bill is a good place to start. Good paying union jobs to build an America for the 21stcentury and beyond. We can have high speed rail that operates on solar and wind power, rail that doesn’t use fossil fuels. Same with green highways that cater to alternative energy vehicles.

Retrofit existing buildings with green technology and make all new construction under Green New Deal guidelines. We can grow the economy while growing the labor force as we slow down global warming. We can make America union strong once again.

Enjoy your day off this Labor Day, brought to you by the unions of America.