Sunday, September 4, 2016

Remembering WHY we celebrate Labor Day, and what we need to worry about going forward

This holiday is the culmination of Labor efforts that have given us the five day work week, the 8 hour work day, sweatshop working conditions, overtime, an end (in most respects, but not all) to child labor, lunch breaks, and to greater worker safety.

It is worth noting that conservatives are still attempting to undo those advances, notably not only in union busting like right-to-work-for-less, but in ending safety regulation and guarantees of overtime pay. Labor Day became an official public holiday in 1894; between the late 1870's and that date, 30 states had started separately celebrating the advances and efforts of the Labor Movement. In New York City they held parades. We are not the only nation to celebrate Labor Day; Canada does so on the same date.

What so many people either have forgotten, or never learned, was how bloody, even deadly, the efforts were of Unions to form for fair wages and safer working conditions. Specifically, Grover Cleveland, a president who gets relatively little attention, signed the federal holiday into Law after a particularly bloody strike breaking period where both the U.S. military and the U.S. Marshal's service killed people to break unionizing efforts in the historic Pullman strike in 1894. The Pullman strike crippled railroads after a factory strike of the workers who built Pullman cars spread to boycotts and other obstruction of railroads where trains included Pullman cars.

The Federal government intervened on the pretext that this was affecting the US Mail service, with a significant amount of mail being transported on trains. During the strike breaking by the military and US Marshals, 30 people died, and another 57 were wounded as peaceful protesting developed into violent protests resulting in $80 million worth of property damage. Cleveland pushed Congress to create Labor Day in appeasement in part because the events surrounding the Pullman strike were so divisive, both within political parties and across different regions of the United States.

As with our current election cycle, the issue of recent immigrants -- LEGAL immigrants -- working at unskilled jobs was also part of the conflict, including the expression of a great deal of nativist political rhetoric and extreme xenophobia. While the holiday began as a celebration of Labor Unions, with parades and speeches, it fairly quickly degenerated into a long weekend of less union or labor celebration and as well became associated with shopping, typically the second most lucrative profit sales date next to the Black Friday commercial sales results after Thanksgiving.

Ignoring the battles, LITERAL battles that created better conditions for millions of people, it should be noted that in the recent past.  H/t to the teamsternation blog for this PARTIAL list of the attempts by the right to undo labor accomplishments and to advance corporate power over people while creating even greater wealth redistribution to the richest 1%.

1. Ban paid overtime in the United States: U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor wants to get rid of  paid overtime.  Reports DailyKos, In Eric Cantor's February 2013 speech, he said he wanted to propose Federal Law that would end overtime pay for hourly workers. 
2. Give corporations the right to vote Montana Rep. Steve Lavin would give corporations that own property within a city to vote in a municipal election. ThinkProgress reports his bill would allow the president, vice president or designee to cast a ballot. 
3. Eliminate child labor laws: Utah Sen. Mike Lee thinks child labor laws should be illegal. So does former Missouri state Sen. Jane Cunningham, who filed a bill in the last session that would eliminate the prohibition on employment of children under age 14. Maine and Wisconsin's two wackadoodle governors, Paul LePage and Job-killer Scott Walker, have both signed laws that roll back child labor protections.  
4. Force unions to pay for non-union members' benefits. Last year, Michigan and Indiana passed No Rights At Work bills that will weaken unions, increase poverty, lower their citizens' standard of living and kill more people at work.  Republicans tried and failed to pass No Rights At Work in Kentucky and New Hampshire, but they're still at it in Missouri and Maine.
5. Raise taxes on everyone but the rich. Republican governors in Ohio, Louisiana, Kansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Nebraska are proposing tax hikes on the vast majority of citizens in order to cut taxes for the wealthy few.  
6. Prohibit living wage and minimum wage laws. Florida state Sen. Stephen Precourt filed a bill to overturn local laws in Orlando, Miami Beach and Gainesville that require some employers to pay slightly more than the minimum wage. The bill has passed through committee. 
7. Make it a crime to expose corporate crime. A bill is now moving through the Indiana Legislature that would criminalize the video or audio recording of unethical or illegal behavior on a farm or in a workplace. Similar laws passed already in Iowa, Montana, North Dakota, Kansas and Utah. 
8. Sell the national parks. Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz proposed selling off 3.2 million acres of public lands. Former Florida Rep. Cliff Stearns admitted on camera he wanted to sell off our national parks because we can't afford them anymore.
9. Make it a crime to make theft a crime: Last year, the Florida House of Representatives passed a bill to overturn local laws that make it illegal for employers to steal wages from their employees. It failed in the Senate.
It is worth noting that our national parks are an important asset, but also that they turn a profit, and that they generate a large number of fairly good paying jobs, as well as tremendously benefiting the surrounding area economically.

I would add to the above list the efforts on the right to undermine education, particularly higher education by making the cost of obtaining that education so high as to be out of reach for an increasing number of students, by legalizing extortionate debt, and by giving cover to for-profit colleges which almost universally provide little, or at best, substandard education that is high priced and worthless.  It is one more way that the right has helped rip-off our military by making it possible for these schools to recruit students from our military with misleading representations of results.

I would add to the above list the efforts by the right to undermine anti-discrimination laws, which legalize and legitimize paying women less than men, as well as keeping women and minorities in lower paying job categories.

Any and all of these laws set the United States back into a position comparable to 3rd world countries, especially by eroding the middle class and by sending greater numbers of people into poverty.

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