NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

Don’t forget to celebrate LABOR Day!

It’s been accept­ed as gospel that the great­est eco­nom­ic engine in Amer­i­ca is small busi­ness – a myth start­ed more than a gen­er­a­tion ago by groups such as the US Cham­ber of Com­merce and prop­a­gat­ed by politi­cians who want to cul­ti­vate a ‘pro-busi­ness’ reputation.

In fact, the great­est force in the Amer­i­can econ­o­my for much of the past cen­tu­ry has been con­sumer spend­ing dri­ven by the abil­i­ty of work­ers and their fam­i­lies to afford more than the basic neces­si­ties of food, cloth­ing and shelter.

When work­ers were unor­ga­nized and had to stand up as indi­vid­u­als to their employ­ers, they had no pow­er to bar­gain for bet­ter wages or work­ing con­di­tions – and were paid and treat­ed accord­ing­ly. Many work­ers earned just enough to make ends meet, and endured work­ing con­di­tions that often result­ed in poor health or career-short­en­ing injuries.

Once work­ers orga­nized, their abil­i­ty to col­lec­tive­ly nego­ti­ate pro­vid­ed them with a greater sense of secu­ri­ty. They knew they were less like­ly to be arbi­trar­i­ly fired, had enhanced work­place safe­ty to help pre­vent them from being injured on the job, and could rely on a set hourly wage. The result was a greater con­sumer con­fi­dence that encour­aged work­ers and their fam­i­lies to spend more freely on a wider vari­ety of non-essen­tial goods and ser­vices than ever before, and the Amer­i­can econ­o­my was grew.

A con­sumer-dri­ven econ­o­my didn’t always exist – it was a byprod­uct of the labor move­ments push for fair wages, work­place safe­ty, and oth­er ben­e­fits that most Amer­i­cans today take for grant­ed. The emer­gence an eco­nom­i­cal­ly-enabled work­ing class pro­vid­ed a cus­tomer base for the entre­pre­neur­ial class – not the oth­er way around.

Most of what the labor move­ment won for work­ing Amer­i­cans is now guar­an­teed by fed­er­al law – but those pro­tec­tions are being assault­ed in a two front war waged by both Wall Street investors and Tea Par­ty rad­i­cals. On the one hand, they say we need to lessen gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions so that busi­ness­es can cre­ate jobs and grow the econ­o­my; on the oth­er hand, they say we don’t need orga­nized labor because we have laws that pro­tect workers.

In oth­er words, the right wing wants to get rid of both the laws that pro­tect work­ers and the unions that fight to ensure that those laws are enforced – and they want to do it under the guise of ‘grow­ing the economy.’

Adding insult to injury is the degree to which con­ser­v­a­tives bash orga­nized labor while tak­ing advan­tage of the ben­e­fits estab­lished by the labor move­ment – includ­ing cel­e­brat­ing Labor Day with­out acknowl­edg­ing every­thing that the labor move­ment has done for the Amer­i­can econ­o­my. They preach that we should “keep Christ in Christ­mas” and “remem­ber the rea­son for the sea­son” every Decem­ber, but man­age to for­get labor on Labor Day.

If the Teabag­gers had any integri­ty, they wouldn’t be tak­ing a day off from labor­ing on Labor Day. They’d go to work – and not claim over­time for work­ing on a legal hol­i­day. If their employ­er is closed, they’d use their day off to per­form the kind of pub­lic ser­vice they claim we don’t need gov­ern­ment for.

Instead, we’ll see news footage of Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial con­tenders – anti-labor apos­tles one and all – giv­ing speech­es to crowds of peo­ple who wouldn’t even have the day off if it weren’t for the labor movement.

It’s time for pro­gres­sives to call these hyp­ocrites out for who they are, and to renew our nations pride in its labor her­itage – begin­ning this Mon­day, by wish­ing every­one you see a Hap­py LABOR day!

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