- Labor Day is commemorated on the first Monday in September
each year since the first one was celebrated in New York in 1882. Around
the world outside the US, socialist and labor movements are observed on
May 1 to recognize organized labor's social and economic achievements and
the workers in them. This day gets scant attention in the US, but where
it's prominent it's commonly to remember the Haymarket Riot of May 4, 1886
in Chicago. It followed the city's May 1 general strike for an eight hour
day that led to violence breaking out on the 4th.
- Labor Day became a national federal holiday when Congress
passed legislation for it in June, 1894 at a time working people had few
rights, management had the upper hand, only wanted to exploit them for
profit, and got away with it. It took many painful years of organizing,
taking to the streets, going on strike, holding boycotts, battling police
and National Guard forces, and paying with their blood and lives before
real gains were won. They got an eight hour day, a living wage, on-the-job
benefits and the pinnacle of labor's triumph in the 1930s with the passage
of the landmark Wagner Act establishing the National Labor Relations Board
(NLRB). It guaranteed labor the right to bargain collectively on equal
terms with management for the first time ever.
- All of it was won from the grassroots. Management gave
nothing until forced to and neither did government. It always sides with
business never yields a thing unless threatened with disruptive work stoppages
or possible insurrection. All this is in a democracy that claims to be
a government of the people, by the people and for the people, most of whom
are ordinary working class ones.
- Since a worried Congress passed the 1935 Wagner Act during
The Great Depression, the state of organized labor declined, especially
post-WW II. It accelerated precipitously during the Reagan years under
an administration openly hostile to worker rights in its one-side support
for management. It continued unabated, under Republican and Democrat administrations,
and today stands at a multi-generational low.
- Under George Bush conditions got much worse. Since coming
into office in 2001, he sided with management openly on policies to strip
workers of their right to organize and be able to bargain for a living
wage and essential benefits. He hired anti-union officials, denied millions
overtime pay, cut pay raises for 1.8 million federal workers claiming a
"national emergency," and schemed to end Social Security as we
know it by plotting (unsuccessfully so far) to let Wall Street sharks take
- Since labor's ascendency decades earlier, corporate America,
in league with government, shamelessly denigrated unions and the rights
of working people in them. In 1958, 34.7% of the work force was unionized,
but now the figure is around 12% overall, and only 7.4% in the private
sector - the lowest it's been in seven decades.
- Even worse, most jobs are low-pay service sector ones
because the nation's manufacturing base and many higher-paying positions
in finance and technology have been offshored to low-wage developing nations.
Workers there can be hired for a fraction of the pay scales here or as
virtual serfs at below poverty wages as low as $2 a day or less and no
benefits. They fill legions of sweatshop factory jobs in countries prohibiting
unions and fair worker practice standards for Wal-Mart's "Always low
prices" on the backs of ruthlessly exploited working people.
- Nonetheless, on the first Monday each September, this
nation "remembers" working Americans with a federally-mandated
holiday in their "honor." Who's celebrating when it's disingenuously
commemorated at a time worker rights are threatened, ignored, forgotten,
and uncared about by heartless governments beholden to capital. They scorn
working people who are no longer as deceived with meaningless bread and
circus droppings at the expense of what they need most: good jobs at good
pay, essential benefits, job security, and a government on their side doing
what counts most - supporting their rights with worker-friendly legislation.
- Workers are reminded every day that backing like that
is off the table by governments shamelessly mocking their day. It's commemorated
in name only by a nation beholden to capital, the corporate giants controlling
it, and the best democracy their money can buy for them alone.
- Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
- Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and
listen to The Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on TheMicroEffect.com
Saturdays at noon US central time.