It is Labor Day — people died so you could have this day off; for the right to bargain collectively, for the 40-hour week, and paid vacations.
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Inequality and Labor
Fascism should be more appropriately be called corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.
— Giovanni Gentile
Happy Labor Day, and I hope that you have had an opportunity to gather with friends and family to observe the many men, women, and children that died in order to make fair wages, the 40-hour week hour week, and vacations a reality. We like to wave flags commemorating wars fought, not for our rights, but for corporate interests, but we have jack shit to say about the people who gave their lives so that we could be properly rewarded for our work.
There has never been a middle class without strong unions. The reason for this is straightforward. More and better unions translate directly into higher pay and better benefits for everyone, including union nonmembers. Contrast that with the reality that both the GOP and the elites of the Democratic Party loathe unions. In fact, neoliberal policies such as those espoused by the Clintons have resulted in most of the wealth being seized by the those at the 1 percent — the same people who fund their campaigns. Yet they also claim they want to build a strong middle class. This makes no sense.
Consider also that the U.S. is going in exactly the opposite direction. Unions, beginning with Reagan, have been under an unprecedented assault. As The Intercept notes, union membership…
… has collapsed in the past 40 years, falling during that time from 24 percent to 11 percent. And even those numbers conceal the reality that union membership is now 35 percent in the public sector but just 6.7 percent in the private sector. That private sector percentage is now lower than it’s been in over 100 years.
At the same time…
… wealth inequality, which fell tremendously during the decades after World War II when the U.S. was most heavily unionized, has now soared back to the levels that have not been seen for 100 years.
Why is this important? It is important because there is a wealth of research showing that there is a connection between inequality, violence, and health.
The tragedy is that even conservative calculations show that if wages had gone up in step with productivity, families with the median household income of around $52,000 per year would now be making about 25 percent more, or $65,000.
If, as decades of studies show, unions lessen inequality, then its impacts far surpass the workplace. Inequality affects how you see those around you and your level of happiness. In more equal societies people live longer, are less likely to be mentally ill or obese and there are lower rates of infant mortality. Inequality increases property and violent crime. Unequal societies have less social mobility and lower scores in maths, reading and science. Less equal societies have less stable economies. High levels of income inequality are linked to economic instability, financial crisis, debt and inflation.
Given all this, you would think that labor history would be a prominent feature of our educational system. Unfortunately it is not because the power elite would never allow a focus on such a history. No, I don’t blame you for forgetting about Labor and its impact on our lives. After all, there’s much more important stuff to think about. Stuff such as whatever Trump tweeted last night. Please note that inequality or the labor movement is almost never an issue discussed during election debates.
In fact, the history of Labor in the USA is one that is rarely ever discussed and until recently, you would be hard put to find any historical documentation on the history of Labor. There is a good reason for this: it’s not a very pretty history. For those of us of a conservative orientation mouthing empty clichés about the “good ole days,” well, Bubba, they weren’t so good.
Not unless you consider child labor, or the lack of responsible overview in the workplace, as good. One school teacher, Samuel Yellin, wanted to teach Labor history to his high school students but was unable to find a textbook, so he wrote his own, American Labor Struggles. Until Howard Zinn and others who would come after, this was the only book that documented the history of the US government’s and Big Business’ horrific response to the Labor movement.
In the past, people have asked me to write about actions we can take to improve things. That comes later. Before we can act, we must become aware. I write in the hopes that even one person can gain some awareness. Mass movements of social change are founded in this notion of enlightening one mind at a time. History shows us, as Margaret Meade observed many years ago: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” The fact remains that the same mindset that is the cause of the problem can never be used to bring about a solution. Solutions require a change of mind, an evolution of the individual and collective consciousness.
Remember to give thanks to all those men, women, and children who had the fuckin’ cojones to lay down their lives for their convictions so that we could enjoy better lives.
My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…