Labor Day, Just the End of Summer?

Dear Group,

Today we celebrate Labor Day, the end of summer, the beginning of school, the return from “the lake.” Is that all it is?

Labor Day, according to wikipedia, “honors the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, laws and well-being of the country.” Labor Day has been a federal holiday since 1894. 

Labor Day was established in the waning years of the “Gilded Age,” a time of explosive industrial growth, urbanization, immigration, and a massive increase in income inequality. Labor movements united workers to fight for safe and equitable working conditions and a living wage, as a counterbalance to the growing power of men and corporations controlling vast and increasing wealth. Do any of these issues sound familiar?

The drip, drip, drip of anecdotes and ideas out of the right wing “think tanks” over the last forty years have consistently characterized the labor movement as corrupt, consisting of nefarious labor-politicos bargaining for wages and conditions that would reward undeserving workers while skimming off money for themselves. For example, vividly emblazoned on my memory is my dad railing against the railroad unionists demanding “firemen” on diesel locomotives long after their original job, shoveling coal, was a relic of the past.

Over those decades corporate interests have assembled a mind frame of distrust of unions while constructing a wonderfully Orwellian campaign for “Right to Work” laws the sole purpose of which is to undermine the power of unions vis-à-vis corporations. 

Right-to-work laws do not aim to provide general guarantee of employment to people seeking work, but rather are a government ban on contractual agreements between employers and union employees requiring workers to pay for the costs of union representation. [from wikipedia. If you are not already clear about “Right to Work” I encourage you to read the article.]

Finally voters are starting to pay attention. In August a two thirds majority of voters in the Primary Election election in Missouri, of all places, rejected a “right-to-work” law.. Fox news even covered it.

It is about power and who is deemed to be righteous and good. If voters are fed enough anecdotes about lazy, undeserving people wanting a bigger piece of the pie through unions and collective bargaining, then they can be sold all sorts of things. Things like Trump’s recent and little noticed cancellation of “across-the-board pay raises for civilian workers across the federal government, citing the “nation’s fiscal situation.” Do he and his Republican/Libertarian sycophants imagine we’ve forgotten the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” a law that gave more than a trillion dollars to corporations and the 1%, the new tax law McMorris Rodgers has tried so very hard to spin as “money in your pocket?” (Note she’s mostly not using this line anymore. Has her vaunted skill at messaging faltered?)

The Trump Republican across-the-board wage raise cancellation is just one more swipe at workers, while Trump tiptoes out the back door his tax cut money in hand. How fitting, somehow, that he should make his announcement right before Labor Day weekend…

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. The Gilded Age article is wikipedia I found fascinating. The term Gilded Age comes from a book by Mark Twain entitled The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today published in 1873 highlighting greed and political corruption in post Civil War America. My mind frame around the “Gilded Age” was molded around high school required reading of Upton Sinclair’s book, The Jungle (1906), about the “harsh conditions and exploited lives of immigrants working in the industrialized cities, specifically the meatpacking industry in the late 19th century. Other influences on my view of this era include my father’s lifetime of work as a depot agent with the Milwaukee Road and Protestant/Catholic tensions I grew up with in mid-20th century Wisconsin. All those memories erupted in my reading of the Gilded Age wikipedia article and associated links.