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!