[Originally published 9/2/2013, but lost when my stupid web host accidentally cancelled my account.]
The important thing to remember about Labor Day is that the word “labor” here does not mean “work,” it means organized labor, i.e., unions. Labor Day was…well, let Professor Krugman give us a little history lesson:
It wasn’t always about the hot dogs. Originally, believe it or not, Labor Day actually had something to do with showing respect for labor.
Here’s how it happened: In 1894 Pullman workers, facing wage cuts in the wake of a financial crisis, went on strike — and Grover Cleveland deployed 12,000 soldiers to break the union. He succeeded, but using armed force to protect the interests of property was so blatant that even the Gilded Age was shocked. So Congress, in a lame attempt at appeasement, unanimously passed legislation symbolically honoring the nation’s workers.
It’s all hard to imagine now. Not the bit about financial crisis and wage cuts — that’s going on all around us. Not the bit about the state serving the interests of the wealthy — look at who got bailed out, and who didn’t, after our latter-day version of the Panic of 1893. No, what’s unimaginable now is that Congress would unanimously offer even an empty gesture of support for workers’ dignity. For the fact is that many of today’s politicians can’t even bring themselves to fake respect for ordinary working Americans….
I know that these days it’s not kewel to speak well of unions. And a lot of that of that is labor’s fault – some of them have become bureaucratic, some were taken over by organized crime for their juicy pension funds, but mostly they did not understand the relentless propaganda that the 1% would employ against them and they failed to rebut it. They assumed, incorrectly it turns out, that reasonable people would ignore the nonsense, such as “right to work”
for peanuts laws.
People forgot that their income is my spending, and my income is their spending. If I (or a bunch of us) stop spending because I’m laid off, or I lose my house, or I’m sequestered, then your income goes down too. You’re better off when we’re all better off. Even crusty old arch-conservative Henry Ford understood this. When confronted by his fellow top-hat-wearing one-percenters over the $5 a day he paid for his factory workers, he supposedly said: “I got to pay them $5 a day. If I don’t, they can’t afford to buy a Ford.”
Back in the 1950′s and 1960′s about 35% of American workers were unionized. It was not so coincidentally, the peak years of the American middle class. Union membership fell off in the 1980′s and the middle class has been dwindling along with it. The data is clear in these two charts to ruin Labor Day. Wages as a percentage of GDP (the overall economy) are at an all time low. Blame it on de-unionization, tax policy, or to a lack of investment in education, but for whatever reason, gains in productivity have not translated into higher wages.
Here’s some Labor Day music from
Irish commie union thugs the Dropkick Murphys. Happy Labor Day!