Labor Day. Is there another popular celebration on our calendar that is as much an anachronistic caricature?
The first Labor Days were spontaneous eruptions of worker dissatisfaction and outrage over Gilded Age wages and working conditions. These facts of daily working class life, without television to distract and confuse workplace issues beyond typical understanding through carefully crafted public relations propaganda campaigns, prompted working people to take to the streets to demand redress of their many grievances against their employers.
The initial response to such rebellion was to call out the military or private security firms such as the Pinkerton Agency and shoot a few of the protesters as a warning to the rest. This strategy was tried repeatedly: Homestead, PA; Pullman, IL; Ludlow, CO; the first Columbine Massacre in 1927; Lattimer, PA; Bay View, WI; and in so many other places and times. Despite the casualties, labor stood tall and held its ground when it could. Other times, such as Phelps-Dodge in 1983, labor lost mightily, swept from the field by superior forces.
For an all-too-brief period, especially after the 1937 Battle of the Overpass which convinced Henry Ford to allow the UAW to organize his factories, labor and management reached a tenuous peace which was rarely broken by physical violence of the scale experienced previously. But with the declaration of open season on labor by Ronald Reagan’s manipulation of the law against PATCO, that dénouement became the model for the abuse of labor in the wider search for ever higher profits through greatly reduced costs. Things just haven’t yet gotten so bad that violence results.
It is only a matter of time before working wages and conditions return to those Gilded Age conditions which inspired our ancestors to rise up en masse. I doubt that such unified popular actions could even happen today, considering that our nation is fractured so thoroughly over social and “moral” issues which don’t involve our personal financial well-being. Too many of the working class now deem those who helped their grandparents achieve middle-class lifestyles to be enemies of the very corporate-financial establishment which oppresses them. They cheer the defeat of a union for having more than they themselves have. But they won’t lift a finger against the bosses to ask for more, even if they deserve it.
Those who deem themselves smarter than the rest of us because they “manage” business should ask themselves something. If We, the People have no money, who is going to buy their products? Our automobiles rarely sell in large numbers overseas because they are completely unsuited to local conditions. In reality, they can only be sold in the US. Yet we are losing our ability to afford them due to wage and hour cuts, higher benefit costs, and the cost of living itself. We are losing our homes and our health care and aren’t going to be buying cars. In too many cases, we aren’t able to eat regularly. This is the direct result of surrendering our labor-based political power for the mess of pottage declared by retailers to be prosperity. We were fooled again. Shame on us.
So enjoy your victory, managers. Soon you yourselves will enjoy the fruits of your strenuous labors as lower-compensation foreign competitors take over your functions. Once you have completed the dirty work of subduing the workers, you are no longer necessary. I know that the Hindu managers can’t wait to show Americans how to run a business! Once they take over, or the Chinese, or maybe the Koreans, you will then understand through experience the lesson learned at great cost by Pyrrhus of Epirus in 280 BCE.
Just don’t expect any tea and sympathy.