Fire up the grill and buy yourself a new mattress, it's Labor Day! Just don't forget how we got the day off in the first place. Here are some things to remember as we crack open a cold one and bask in a little bit of freedom today.
above - Madison, WI protests against Gov. Scott Walker in January
#7 The U.S. Constitution does not stop at the front door of the workplace.
Let's face it, corporations are fundamentally undemocratic institutions. But, as much as CEOs and boards of directors would love to run the workplace as their own little fiefdoms it's just not the case. For that we can all be grateful.
#6 Unemployment sucks
Yeah, the economy is down but really I've never received a reasonable economic explanation for why companies go on firing sprees even when their profits go up. This Labor Day is a holiday not just for workers, but for the millions of unemployed who've been hitting the pavement everyday searching for a break.
#5 What happens when labor unions get busted
Probably the most significant labor defeat in recent American history was Ronald Reagan busting up the air traffic controllers. When they organized walk-outs in 1981 he fired most of them and threw the leaders in prison for participating in an unauthorized labor stoppage.
The result? The industry never recovered. They've been working impossible hours for diminishing pay ever since. Michael Moore devoted a portion of "Capitalism: A Love Story" to the circumstances of air traffic controllers who now have to receive food stamps to get by. Do you think a more alert group of air traffic controllers might have averted 9/11?
When labor gets beaten, the defeat for quality of life & work is total. The consequences of a broken union are worth remembering as teachers, firefighters, police-officers, postal-workers and all manner of unionized professionals wage their own battles today.
#4 More often than not workers get written out of history books.
To this day we have people trying to give credit for building the pyramids at Giza to a bunch of extra-terrestrials. No, damnit! It was ordinary and historically anonymous human-beings who put stone on stone for generations to admire. If it weren't for authors like Howard Zinn today's workers wouldn't be getting their historical due anywhere either.
#3 The right to organize was paid for in blood
There are lots of people who know more about this than I do (and if you're one of them, you're more than welcome to comment). Just google "Pullman Strikes" to get an idea of how it used to be and how it could be again if we're not on our toes.
#2 Labor rights are an international issue
Compared to some countries, America has it rough. Sure, we'd love to have childcare leave and long, European style vacations. Is that so un-American? Yet, right now teachers in Bahrain are being tried in military courts and trade-workers in Iran are imprisoned for any kind of organizing. That's to say nothing of the lack of protections for workers in Latin America & Asia that make it possible for corporations move jobs to the third world.
#1 The fight is still going strong in Madsion, WI
Back in January I took a day-trip up to Madison with a couple of friends to see what was going on there. What was happening was a rare and beautiful thing, like the Aurora Borealis. The people completely owned the town. They still have a lot of work to do on the recall of Gov. Walker and they're fighting for inches in the state legislature. Madison, you Prius-loving buncha cheeseheads...this Labor Day's for you!
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