The first Monday in September is Labor Day and the first recorded “workingman’s holiday” in the United States. Over the years, organized labor and eventually labor unions created the first middle-class and provided millions of working Americans tangible benefits: health benefits, paid vacations, child labor laws, equal pay for equal work, safer working conditions, and domestic partner benefits. But over the last 30 years the working class has not been able to share in the prosperity that ‘they” produce for those in charge. Currently the top 1% of Americans take in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income and control 40% of the nation’s wealth. Twenty-five years ago, the figures were 12% and 33% respectively. Over the same period, the middle class in America has seen no growth in inco0me or a decline. Poverty is no longer just a topic of conversation it’s very real as the gap between the rich and the poor in this country has never been wider.
There Is some irony to this Labor Day in 2011 because of the recent attacks on working class Americans including a political onslaught to bust unions and take away rights that workers have fought long and hard for. Republican members of the House of Representatives, including their radical Tea Party Caucus continue to introduce legislation that would benefit the rich and powerful and slice up the safety nets of most working class Americans. For example, according to the Economic Policy Institute, the debt ceiling deal the Tea Party insisted on will result in 1.8 million fewer jobs due to the loss of the payroll tax holiday, the expiration of extended unemployment insurance, and near-term discretionary cuts.
As a result of this anti-working class movement, many union and non-union workers will turn out in droves this year at parades and gatherings to pay honor to America’s working class and to bring attention to the attacks that working people and their unions are faced with today. Indeed, this Labor Day the American worker must speak up against the concerted effort of those who would trample on worker’s rights and the much-deserved benefits that are the result of organized labor. Collective bargaining for a 40 hour work week, the minimum wage act, overtime pay, safety in the workplace, child labor laws, sick and maternity leave, are the things fought hard for by organized labor over the years and MUST survive the Republican/Tea Party onslaught. It’s also high time to disregard those politicians, corporate CEOs, millionaire right-wing media personalities, and “free market” economists who portray themselves as friends of the working man but conveniently ignore the data showing twenty years of salary stagnation for the working class and the widest gap between the rich and poor ever recorded in this country.
This Labor Day America will also commemorate the 10th anniversary of September 11, and pay tribute to all the working people including civil servants and over 600 union members who lost their lives on that tragic day many coming to the aid of their fellow Americans. We will never forget.