America will celebrate Labor Day this Monday, but expect the party to be muted. These are tough times for American workers.
Labor Day is a federal holiday observed on the first Monday in September that celebrates the economic and social contributions of workers. It became a federal holiday in 1894.
Ironically, the legislation that declared the observance came six days after the famed Pullman Strike, during which a number of striking workers were killed by U.S. military and U.S. Marshals. Fearful of greater conflict, the legislation making Labor Day a national holiday was rushed through Congress unanimously and signed into law by President Grover Cleveland in an attempt to appease the labor force.
Fortunately American workers aren’t being shot today, but things are tough.
The ongoing presidential campaign is quick to remind us national unemployment is above 8 percent. That’s a sad number, but it’s not the number we should be most concerned about.
According to the United States Federal Reserve middle class wealth — the value of assets such as homes, automobiles and stocks minus any debt — dropped 40 percent between 2007 and 2010. Median middle class income fell nearly 8 percent in 2010 alone. This during a time when the cost of everything from food to housing to fuel to education is soaring.
The middle class happens to be the vast majority of the American labor pool. The typical American worker now has less wealth than 20 years ago. That’s nothing to celebrate.
By the way, the wealthiest families’ median net worth rose slightly during the same time period.
The “One Percent,” as the Occupy Wall Street movement coined the nation’s financial elite, call such comparisons class warfare — while they contribute money to politicians determined to roll back workers’ rights. Look at Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, even New York. Are any workers celebrating New York’s new Tier 6 retirement plan this Labor Day?
Winners get to write history, which probably accounts for the fact many seem to blame the recession on workers, particularly public employees, apparently forgetting the bankers, Wall Street managers and greedy business people who pushed our economy to the brink of collapse. They cite employee salaries and benefits that taxpayers and businesses can no longer afford.
Union workers have been forced to make salary and benefit concessions. Non-union laborers have simply had to accept cuts to their pay and benefits. Workers are told they’re lucky to have jobs at all.
There was a time in America when workers earned a living and respect by doing their jobs. Day-by-day, year-by-year the American labor force did its part and was rewarded with an improved quality of life.
Those days are gone, at least for now. Workers are still expected to do their jobs every day, but for less pay and less respect.
This Labor Day let’s do more than attend a parade or have a cook out. Let’s take a moment to acknowledge the difficulties encountered by American workers and thank them for continuing to do the job in the face of great adversity.
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