Labor Day has come and gone. For most people it represents a day off. For most merchants it represents a day of sales for more selling. But Holidays, especially national ones, were usually established for remembrance as well. Labor Day, in this regard, is being shortchanged.
The nation’s labor confederation, the AFL-CIO, headquartered in Washington, D.C. seems unable or unwilling to make the most out of Labor Day. Beyond the usual public statement reviewing its “successes,” the AFL-CIO takes the day off. What a lost opportunity in the mass media and in the minds of our country’s citizenry!
Perhaps, organized labor should create historical, cultural and political events around the country to tap the widespread public yearning for understanding what is happening to our economy and the working people who are slipping further behind year after year.
A new book — The State of Working America — by the Economic Policy Institute concluded that “The majority of Americans remain worse off in the early 1990s than they were at the end of the 1970s. . . Wealth continues to accrue disproportionately to the already-wealthy, and poverty rates remain intractable even in the midsts of a recovery.”
How can this be? Aren’t we told by the professional economists that the gross national product (GNP) is increasing? Sure, but who is benefitting? When giant companies merge, the billions of dollars for the merger or acquisition are counted in boosting the GNP. Then the merged company announces big layoffs.
Gambling casinos are abuilding and abooming. Up goes the GNP. Who are the losers? Most of the gamblers who will have less money to buy clothing, appliances, and other products.
It is quite obvious that the professional economists are not explaining why the GNP has grown measurably since 1973 to date while most Americans have experienced a decline in their income,
That is the kind of questions that Labor Day events could throw a massive public spotlight upon.
Let’s suggest some answers. The nation’s labor laws are obsolete and unenforced. Long ago the companies and their union busters learned how to work these laws into the land of futility for workers. When Reagan became President, he made sure the National Labor Relations Board represent employers, not workers.
Only fourteen percent of American workers are in trade unions -the lowest in the western world. Canada has over 30% in unions -largely a function of labor laws which allow rather than obstruct formation of these worker associations. In the U.S.’s industrial workforce, unions have only 11 percent of workers in their ranks.
More than a few unions are dominated by entrenched leadership that is under no retirement traditions. Though the Teamsters have been significantly reformed, due to government enforcement action over many years, there is still too much debilitating corruption and stagnation keeping unions from organizing and growing and becoming more democratic.
The federal minimum wage law has gone from $3.35 an hour to $4.25 an hour in the last fourteen years. It is not keeping up with inflation in that period, not to mention falling behind in the inflation-wracked Seventies.
Clinton has done nothing to press Congress to increase the minimum wage, merely to adjust to inflation, done nothing to get Congress to strengthen the labor laws, to beef up the Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) law and to protect worker pensions from being looted. All these overdue initiatives were Clinton’s campaign promises.
For Clinton, corporations are what get him moving. Witness his energy levels on their behalf to ram NAFTA through Congress last year — a trade agreement opposed by most workers, and most consumer and grassroots environmental groups as well.
Actions that concentrate unaccountable power are not good for democracy. And what depletes our democracy sooner or later depletes our economy and harms those who need to benefit from this economy. Unenforced antitrust laws and weakened consumer protection programs also damage shoppers’ dollars, health and safety.
The massive financial frauds that are still proliferating -investment firms, banks, insurance companies and real estate scams produce lots of jobs for bookkeepers, lawyers, bailout operators and their clerks which taxpayers and consumers pay for in the hundreds of billions of dollars. These are preventable wealth wasters that lower standards of living.
Labor Day can involve millions of Americans in finding out why their labors are bringing them less year after year. Such activities would honor earlier working Americans, who many years ago struggled to achieve decent living standards and laws that advanced and protected workplace justice.
One would think that the AFL-CIO leadership would have produced such Labor Days years ago. Instead, the merchants beat them to it.