Born in the U.S.A: Thoughts on Labor Day

The first Monday in September is a big deal for American workers. On that first Monday of September every year we honor American workers and their organizations on Labor Day, which was first recognized as a federal holiday in September 1894.

We are often told that there is dignity in all work, and I don’t dispute that. What I dispute today is that we can honor labor simply one day of the year and make public policy harmful to it every other day of it. The Republicans often accuse the Democratic Party of engaging in ‘class warfare,’ and deny that social class exists in the United States. The Republicans should be able to recognize class warfare when they see it — after all, they’ve been engaging in it for close to three decades now.

The proverbial first shot was fired when Ronald Reagan fired striking air traffic controllers in 1981. In recent years, the campaign against organized labor has heated up, with anti-labor governors moving to limit the right of collective bargaining in states like Wisconsin or Ohio (although it should be noted that the attempt by Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) to rollback collective bargaining rights has since been defeated at the polls) and to enact a so-called ‘right-to-work’ law in a state like Indiana, with similar proposals cropping up in Missouri and Michigan.

The war on workers in this country is being waged from the top down. Nowhere is this more evident in the wealthy soaking up more and more economic growth and more control of the economy as a whole while the working class comes away with less and less. With unions declining in membership thanks to a concerted effort on behalf of business and the GOP to undo the American social contract. As of 2011, 13.1% of American workers are union members compared to 26.7% of American workers in 1973, when the first shifts towards ‘free market’ economics began under President Nixon. Today the top 20% of earners own 85% of the nation’s wealth, while the top 1% of income earners itself pulls away about 35% of it. We have a more unequal society than at any time since the Great Depression.

This Labor Day, I think we should reflect on how w can make our nation a more equal place and a place where everyone has a shot to pursue his or her dreams, regardless of how much money they’re born into. A good place to start would be making it easier for workers to organize and bargain collectively for higher wages, benefits, and better working conditions.

 

Column by Devin Griggs, Opinion Editor

Devin Griggs serves as Vice President of Finances for the Murray State College Democrats.