Celebrate Labor Day? Why bother? What is there for labor to celebrate, really? Allow me to set the stage for my tale.
My employer (who shall remain unnamed lest I suffer massive professional consequence) performs an interesting contradiction to the daily form of interaction between management and the heavily-unionized hourly workers. Every year, a lavish banquet is hosted to honor those employees who have completed another five years of service from their original hire dates. Many spouses see this event as a free night out, and don't quite understand why their employed partners are not so eager to attend. As one such employee, I have made it my pastime to note who has swallowed hard and attended versus who can no longer find it palpable to do so. Those who stay away far outnumber those who cannot. The reasons for boycotting the bash involve not wanting to encourage hypocrisy out of one's managers which will only be quickly reversed the next day, or to subject one's self to it in the first place. One night of respectful conviviality doesn't make up for the 1000 workdays' abuse endured to qualify to attend. One night of having the guy who belittles your performance daily isn't assuaged by his quick and insincere comment of gratitude uttered through clenched teeth no matter how uncomfortable he is in doing so.
I told you that story to tell you this one. Assuming that I haven't lost you yet, it is with this emotional conundrum that I propose that it is time to change the name of the holiday formerly held in honor of labor. There really is little for labor to celebrate at the moment, while there are plenty of reasons for employers to rejoice. Therefore, I propose that the name of the holiday be officially altered to Victory Over Labor Day in honor of Rick Santelli's "real Americans," those who triumphed over an untamed continent, hostile natives, and organized labor to achieve economic greatness. The Republicans should love this, and the Blue Dogs will slavishly vote with them to approve the measure.
It wasn't always thus. Jim Goodman – a dairy farmer and activist from Wonewoc, Wisconsin – makes a good case for why history should honor labor. But lately labor might well be its own worst enemy and be deemed unworthy of celebration. AFL-CIO president John Sweeney is backtracking furiously from a position that should be stoutly defended to offset some of the many strong advantages management has to protect itself from feeble labor power. Were he to do so, Sweeney would be helping to fix a problem he himself noted last spring — that one-third of all Americans forgo medical care due to the costs — yet he isn't willing to stand up for the ability of his membership to be able to do so. More benefit costs are being dropped on the employee while the employer cuts wages to the bone (that is, of course, assuming that these members still have jobs). In addition, Teamster President Jimmy Hoffa is following Obama's example and declaring that less of a medical benefit package for his members is okay with him. That ain't how a trucker puts the hammer down, Jimmy!
But it isn't just union leaders who aren't helping labor improve its lot in life. Unorganized labor also is being squeezed so much that the plutocrats needn't ever fear the horrifying experience of enduring the slightest want. Job losses have now matched the numbers last seen in 1983 during Ronald Reagan's first recession, only this time the Laffer Curve is laughing at the wage-earners as economists predict that what recovery occurs will not include much of an increase in employment. First time unemployment claims are already more common than expected, and one-third of the young cannot find sufficient work to enable themselves to live independent of their parents (I myself have three offspring in this condition at the moment) or to make enough to pay off growing student loans (ditto).
On the opposite end of the discordant chord across the Circle of Economic Life, older workers find themselves unable or too afraid to retire at the same time Obama is attempting to promote the idea that workers should save more for retirement. Has Obama forgotten that these very workers will be expected to cover the massive costs of bailing out the very banks which spent their trivial IRA and 401(k) account funds on subprime mortgages and other risky gambles? The elderly have little time left in life to recoup enough funds to be able to remain retired, and as I note above, the young can't find a job to have anything to save for retirement after they repay school loans and buy that mandatory and uncapped medical insurance with all those co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses!
It doesn't get any better. Whirlpool just announced that they were exporting 1100 jobs to Mexico, inspiring a jilted employee to complain: "I believe I speak for the entire community in Evansville when I say that we at least appreciate being kissed before getting screwed." Lockheed Martin just announced 800 employees had no future with them, and even companies which have received direct federal stimulus money are laying off workers!
But those who still have jobs are increasingly finding themselves the victims of management wage theft and other workplace crimes. A new study [PDF] released by the Ford, Joyce, Haynes, and Russell Sage Foundations shows that "labor protections in America are failing significant numbers of workers," generating an observation (subject to the charge of hypocrisy) from the New York Times — an employer which forced layoffs and pay cuts on its own employees — to note, "It is, of course, morally abhorrent that the American economy should be so riddled with exploitation."
Methinks The Grey Lady doth protest too much! But that doesn't end the validity of the comment as applied to other employers across the nation. If your employer is anything like mine, you now have to clock in and out for lunch within a specific time window. We were told that it was all Wal-Mart's fault for screwing their "associates" out of lunch and breaks and forced unpaid overtime. Just what can Wal-Mart do to make up the $640 million penalty shortfall with their new payroll scam – er, plan? As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Wal-Mart will no longer be issuing paper paychecks to its employees. Wal-Mart plans to pay its workers either through a direct deposit program, or on a debit card. All related processing and service fees will fall on the already overwrought and underpaid "associates," who now have to be wishing that they had other employment options besides remaining at Wal-Mart and starving while waiting for furloughed state employees to return to work and process their unemployment applications.
Despite all the loudness emanating from Red Staters lately, the Republicans continue to be no help in finding a solution to the problems this nation faces. They choose instead to blame the other party for not repairing the damage they themselves did to us. The Democrats can't seem to remember that they were given power to do that which would improve our condition. As of today there is no one else available to take over the reins of power. What is a beset workforce to do?
Maybe we should task Goldman Sachs and Merill Lynch and JP Morgan Stanley with running the government. After all, isn't it said that to the victor belongs the spoils? Right now, no one is more spoiled than they are – and no modern industrial nation is more despoiled because of them.
It would serve them right!