I fail to understand why we do not see news reporting of Labor Day parades, rallies and marches that happen nationwide. I have always asked myself: why is labor absent in Labor Day coverage?
It is true that organized labor have lost the power they once enjoyed. It is true that a mighty forty percent labor density in the U.S. during four prosperous decades of American middle class has now come down to a paltry eleven percent, only six percent of it being in the private sector. And it is true that unlike FDR’s New Deal administration that championed rights and respect for the working men and women of America, and created massive numbers of U.S. jobs under labor secretary Frances Perkins, even Democratic presidents like Obama and Clinton have not done much to stem the low tide of the labor movement. In fact, they have pushed on the same, anti-labor Reaganomics on one hand, and passed anti-labor laws on the other – to severely damage the bargaining power of unions for equality, fairness, and justice.
Clinton passed NAFTA with more votes from Republicans than his own party’s lawmakers, an act that American workers – both liberal and conservative – remember with an acid taste in their mouth. Then, after eight years of a disastrous Bush era that saw massive tax cuts for the super-wealthy individuals and corporations, capped with a trillion-dollar Wall Street bailout, an Obama government did not do what the ninety-nine percent wanted it do – to empower the powerless. A key, 2008 election issue such as the Employee Free Choice Act slipped out of peoples’ short-lived memory.
Income inequality has skyrocketed in America since Ronald Reagan, resulting in a situation where USA is doing the worst among developed, capitalist countries on social, academic and health issues. Republicans have actively encouraged this obnoxious inequality where today, the one percent elite have forty percent of the country’s wealth and fifty percent of the entire stock and bond market. Democrats have passively complied with the Republican onslaught on the ordinary people. Unemployment is the greatest since the Great Depression; blacks and youth unemployment is over twenty-five percent. The working men and women and their families are languishing, and struggling to make ends meet. The American Dream is essentially non-existent, because the horrible inequality has put a stop on any upward social mobility.
Far right are exploiting on people’s anger. Job outsourcing in China, India and Bangladesh, and domestic replacement of fair-paid U.S. workers with low-paid undocumented immigrant workers have only thrown more fuel to that fire.
Yet, this is precisely the time when a Labor Day celebration must remind us of the countless, important contributions labor unions have made to make this country so great – for its working people. I remember when I was growing up in Calcutta in the sixties and early seventies, I would be awestruck to see pictures of ordinary, middle-class American families and their enviable standard of living. Life or Time magazine brought us photos of glory of American capitalism – a forty-year saga from 1940 to 1980 – when the middle class had full-time jobs, could pay back their home mortgage in one lifetime, and also had free, stress-less time for their families and children. It was also a time when the income inequality was the lowest, taxes were reasonably high on the rich and low on the middle class, and the labor movement indeed enjoyed a forty-percent union strength, with New York, California and Massachusetts having sixty to seventy percent of working men and women in the union, working hard and efficiently negotiating human rights and wages.
It was also a time when USA also passed a historic Civil Rights Act with an Affirmative Action Act that created social equality, and paved way to elect a black president in America nearly half a century later.
How quickly we forget our own history! And I’ve learned American history fairly recently.
But I learned more. I came to know that Dr. King, one of the most important civil rights leaders, was also a labor leader. I learned that his final speech the day before his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee was to a group of striking, sanitation workers. I came to know that Dr. King fought for income equality along with global peace and social justice. In fact, labor leaders such as him spearheaded precious movements for many decades that gave rise to an eight-hour work day, an overtime pay, weekends, collective bargaining, maternity leave, environmental and safety standards, and pension and other benefits we now take for granted.
Even people who are now blasting organized labor and helping to roll back the basic American human rights and freedom – are enjoying the rights and freedom that labor unions have fought for, and won for them.
This Labor Day, I ask America to remember its glorious history of its working men and women. I demand media and establishment to put labor, and its due rights and respect, back in Labor Day.