Labor Day; What the heck is Labor Day anyway? I know the banks are closed, and the stock markets too. Labor Day is considered the traditional end of summer, but that’s really September 21st. It used to be the end of summer vacation, but may schools start in mid-to-late August these days. I know! It’s a fashion date! Can’t wear white after Labor Day, right?
On Labor Day weekend, social media is usually inundated with meme’s honoring teachers, law enforcement, fire professionals, etc. For most of us, I suppose the holiday has become thought of as a celebration of public sector workers, or all workers in general. But it’s not. Its neither.
Labor Day is the workers’ movement in the United States and around the world. What? Does that sound socialist or too Communist? I don’t know and, honestly, I don’t really care. Because that’s exactly what Labor Day is: a celebration of blue-collar workers and the solidarity of unionization. Interesting, however, the US intentionally placed our celebration of workers solidarity in September to avoid identifying the holiday with International Worker’s Day which is May 1st every year and has a significant history with the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago and the pan-Communist movement of the late 19th century.
I say I don’t care if the holiday sounds too socialist or Communist because I’m tired of how we seem to ignore or rewrite history. It is a day to celebrate the labor movement, not the general and vague concept of work. Those social media memes I mentioned, notice that professions honored are unionized professions. Again, law enforcement, fire professionals, teachers, and nurses. We usually don’t give shout-outs to doctors, lawyers, and hedge fund managers on Labor Day, do we?
The first Labor Day was celebrated in Oregon in 1887. At the time, as now, it was a recognition of trade unions and the labor movements. It’s a recognition of the workers who took an UNPAID day off work on September 5, 1882, so that nowadays, many of us receive a PAID day off of work.
I mentioned the rewriting and watering down of history? Go to the Department of Labor’s website, and you’ll see no mention of unionization, union-busting, or strikes. You will read a few references to two unions in particular, but the site glosses over the reasoning that unions were necessary in the first place. Indeed, the site begins and concludes with empty jingoistic phrases about the “the greatest worker in the world – the American worker.” Might as well stand while reading the diatribe while placing your MAGA hat across your heart.
If this holiday is about the American blue-collar worker, why is it that the banks, government offices, and financial markets are closed, while Wal-Marts, Chic-Filets, Hobby Lobbys are open. Fun fact, Costco is closed on Labor Day. You’re welcome…
In an era where many are suspect of the government deep state and the liberal media bias, it’s amusing that it’s the Department of Labor’s version of the history of Labor Day is so biased and whitewashed (I wonder if its whitewashed on the warm cycle of the washing machine with all those white-collars?).
For a more honest and raw recollection of the origins of Labor Day, take a look at history.com:
“Labor Day, an annual celebration of workers and their achievements, originated during one of American labor history’s most dismal chapters.
In the late 1800s, at the height of the Industrial Revolution in the United States, the average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks in order to eke out a basic living. Despite restrictions in some states, children as young as 5 or 6 toiled in mills, factories and mines across the country, earning a fraction of their adult counterparts’ wages.
People of all ages, particularly the very poor and recent immigrants, often faced extremely unsafe working conditions, with insufficient access to fresh air, sanitary facilities and breaks.
As manufacturing increasingly supplanted agriculture as the wellspring of American employment, labor unions, which had first appeared in the late 18th century, grew more prominent and vocal. They began organizing strikes and rallies to protest poor conditions and compel employers to renegotiate hours and pay. Many of these events turned violent during this period, including the infamous Haymarket Riot of 1886, in which several Chicago policemen and workers were killed. Others gave rise to longstanding traditions: On September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City, holding the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history.”
So, I guess, to me, Labor Day has taken its equal place at the table of hypocrisy with so many of the other watered down and revisionist federal holidays. Sure, we have a wonderful vanilla-ly quaint and boring holiday on January 1st to celebrate New Years Day on the Gregorian Calendar, right? Well, at least its been New Year’s Day in the British Empire and former colonies since 1752, but I digress…
Then we have the other nine federal holidays (one more aside, why wouldn’t we have 12 federal holidays in twelve months, instead of 10 federal holidays in 8 months…) What was I saying? Oh, right, our wonderful other nine federal holidays:
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, when we celebrate the Civil Rights’ Movement and its leader, even while limiting black suffrage through voter ID laws, George Washington’s Birthday, which isn’t even on his birthday, Memorial Day which most people can’t distinguish from Veterans Day, Independence Day, which isn’t even the day that the Second Continental Congress voted for independence, or signed the Declaration of Independence, our beloved Labor Day that we celebrate even while spreading “Right to Work” anti-union legislation across the country, Columbus Day to honor an Italian who worked for the Spanish to discover the Bahamas, Hispaniola, and Cuba and then proceeded to rape, pillage, enslave, and murder. Great guys, so proud to celebrate a guy who has nothing to do with American history, or if we want to extend his legacy to the United States, I suppose we’re celebrating the genocide of the Native American peoples? In November, we celebrate Veterans Day Part II. Actually, in all seriousness, Veterans Day honors the living veterans and was specifically established on November 11th to replace Armistice Day which ended World War I, whereas Memorial Day was established as a Civil War holiday to honor deceased soldiers. Both holidays are worthy, but I wonder what it says about us as a country that we have two federal holidays about war, why not celebrate December 10th which is recognized internationally as Human Rights Day? Finally, we have the eighth and ninth federal holidays: Thanksgiving Day which celebrates neither the first Thanksgiving (the first actual feast of Thanksgiving in what was to become the United States occurred on April 20, 1598, in the area of present-day El Paso, Texas, when Juan de Oñate offered a feast of thanksgiving for the bountiful food and water that saved his expedition), nor is it the first English colony, that would be Virginia, but for some reason we celebrate the second English colony of Plimouth [sic] and the goodwill of the New England Native Americans, who were then repaid by the stealing of their lands and even enslavement and deportation after King Phillip’s War. And then there’s the final federal holiday of the year, when the country that ratified the First Amendment barring the establishment of any state religion, celebrates the second most important holiday in the Christian religion. But, hey, that’s just my take on the 10 federal holidays of the United States.
Today is one of those federal holidays. Let’s not lose sight of our history as we water-down the celebration the US labor movement and minimize the history of unions in America. After all, we don’t celebrate Cesar Chavez on Martin Luther King Day, and we don’t celebrate UPS drivers on Veterans Day, nor do we celebrate Moses, Kristna, Buddha, or Mohammed on Christmas Day, so why have we taken Labor Day away from the unions?
Unions are important to the long-term health of the American economy and those who would say otherwise are lining their pockets with disproportionate income. Those would include not just the backers of Right to Work legislation, and the reduction of Capital Gains Taxes, etc., etc., but also the bloated compensation receiving CEOs.
The famous or infamous (depending on your political perspective) Dodd-Frank Act requires businesses to disclose the ratio of CEO pay to median worker pay in their annual proxies. 2018 was the first year that this provision came into force, so what have we learned?
For example, Mattel CEO Margo Georgiadis was awarded almost $31.3 million in 2017. Meanwhile, the median worker at the company earned $6,271. The ratio? 4,987 to 1.
For comparison, At Berkshire Hathaway, the pay ratio is roughly 2 to 1. CEO Warren Buffett makes $100,000. The median worker at his company makes $53,510. That’s right, one of the two richest Americans, Warren Buffet, has a compensation ratio of 2-1 to the average employee.
Now, some may argue with me by talking about how well the stock market is doing, but remember, blue-collar workers do not invest in the stock market, except through their retirement 401Ks, so the day-to-day successes of the financial markets do not trickle down to the workers but do benefit the white-collar workers who are more likely to have stock options as part of their compensation packages.
Why does this matter? What does this have to do with unions and Labor Day? Well, in 2016, in terms of raw numbers, there were 14.6 million members in the U.S., down from 17.7 million in 1983. Statistically, union workers average 10-30% higher pay than non-union in the United States after controlling for individual, job, and labor market characteristics. Hence, for example, government jobs are pretty good, right? And, unsurprisingly 35.3% of government employees are unionized, coincidence? Meanwhile, while only 6.7% of private-sector employees are unionized.
Now, if you don’t mind me geeking out a bit, consider these two other pieces of fun facts:
Percentage-wise, 10.7% of American workers belonged to a union in 2016, compared to 20.1% in 1983. And, if you take government employees out of the picture, the current union membership in the private sector has fallen under 7% — levels not seen since 1932. You know, the time of the Great Depression?
Income disparity, deficit-spending by the government, and the static wages of the average American-worker (adjusted for inflation) are all related to the decline of union power in the United States. And that decline is intentional. I have mentioned these so-called Right to Work states. The argument goes that workers should be able to choose whether they belong to a union or not; of course, one could argue that they chose to belong to a union when they chose their profession, right? I mean, when I join the army, I know I’ll have to do physicals. When I join air-traffic controlling, I know I have to take drug tests, etc., etc.
But back to R-T-W; the more appropriate legislation would pass a Hyde Amendment for unions to limit political spending of individual dues to the union, not to block the union dues themselves. The R-T-W is about union-busting, not the rights of workers or free speech.
And Labor Day? Labor Day is a holiday to celebrate the history of the unions in this country, the obstacles that unions and their blue-collar workers had to overcome, and the benefits that almost all American workers take for granted these days: the 8 hour work day, not 12 or 14; the five day work week, not 6 or 7; the prevention of child labor; and the right to collectively bargain for fair wages and benefits.
Honor our Veterans on Veterans Day, honor our Civil Rights leaders on MLK, honor our Founding Fathers on Washington’s birthday and the 4th of July, and honor labor unions on Labor Day.
My name is Tom Keefe, and I’m your Babbling and sometimes blasphemous Professor,
Happy Labor Day everyone!
References, Links, and Resources