Phoenicians are getting ready to celebrate a day off on Labor Day, September 5. It is ironic that this Federal holiday will be celebrated by so many when labor unions throughout the country are under attack. As usual, there is a disconnect between what we celebrate and what we appreciate.
Violence has spawned several of our holidays (from the July 4 recognition of our revolution and independence to Easter’s celebration of Jesus’ resurrection after being horribly crucified to Veterans Day recognizing those who have sacrificed and been sacrificed in war). Labor Day was passed, in 1894, only six days after striking Pullman workers were killed by US Marshals and Federal troops. Congress moved faster then.
Originally, Labor Day consisted of parades to celebrate the strength of trade and labor unions. Spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement were explored on “Labor Sunday,” and labor workers and their families were admired. In the 1960’s one in four workers was in a union.
During the past few decades, the tide seems to be turning against labor unions. Part of it is probably because, now, only one in eight workers belongs to a union. Also, most of the unions left are in government, which has fallen out of favor. The management/union conflicts are as intense as ever, but there seems to be diminishing public sympathy. Ohio Governor John Kasich is currently in a stalemate with labor unions over legislation to remove public employees’ collective-bargaining rights.
Arizona is one of 22 right-to-work states, and Phoenix’ few unions can fit on one Google page. This year, Phoenicians can enjoy Labor Day sales in department and furniture stores, Labor Day car sales, and lots of backyard barbeques. Meanwhile a search on the Phoenix Citysearch site yielded no labor day events or celebrations this year.
Which came first? Was the growth of labor unions responsible for the rising costs of American goods and the resulting dcreating emise of manufacturing and jobs or was the demise of unions responsible for allowing American companies to export jobs and the growing income gap? Whether you agree with either contention, on Labor Day, it would be nice to remember and recognize that unions have served an important role in the building of our country, safety of our workers, protection of our children from sweatshops, and the creation of our middle class.