01 September 2008

Labor Day - Bad news for Labor!

This Labor Day does not commemorate gains or, for that matter, good news for those of us who labor. Over the last year, unemployment and those discouraged from seeking work, or those in jobs carrying the label of underemployed, has increased by 25%, according to a new study by the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations

Workers are in worse shape than they have been for years. The creator of the report, Professor Douglas Kruse, a labor economist, says the sharp decline in Americans able to find full-time jobs along with growing consumer debt and health care costs are cause for tremendous concern.

The report projects that more than 10% of Americans are out of work, underemployed (flipping burgers or greeting at Wally-World), or despairing of being able to find any work at all. Couple this with another wire report, this weekend news cycle, projecting a 10% increase in health care costs next year and one sees that Professor Kruse’s concern is well placed.

The report also lists some other dismal findings:

  • 530,000 were subject to mass layoffs last year, reflecting a growth of nearly 5%
  • The median average weekly earnings for American workers has not grown in real terms over the last eight years.
  • The federal minimum wage, at $6.55, is worth 40-cents less per hour, in inflation-adjusted dollars than it was a decade ago.
  • Only 25% of the workforce has access to employer-assisted wellness and child-care programs.
  • Nearly 4% of the workforce working part-time do so only because there are no full-time jobs to be found.

In 1893, more than a century ago, Samuel Gompers, replied this way when asked, “What does labor want?”

“We want more school houses and less jails: more books and less arsenals; more learning and less vice; more constant work and less crime; more leisure and less greed; more justice and less revenge; in fact, more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures, to make manhood more noble, womanhood more beautiful and childhood more happy and bright”

Now, 115-years later, we still yearn for the same things. But, despite our yearnings for justice, fair wages, transparent elections, and freedom from want, disease, poverty and crime we find ourselves in engaged daily struggles to survive the effects of rapacious oil companies, greedy HMOs and giant insurance companies, declining real-wages, unemployment, unsafe food-stuffs, deadly toys and pet foods, foreclosures, inflation, loss of basic personal freedom and privacy, and we weep as the lives of some of our very best men and women are taken away from us in the occupation of Iraq.

We’ve watched as our politicized public schools deteriorate into police-patrolled, drug and violence infested microcosms of our neighborhoods, and as the international corporations wage war on unions, safety regulations and worker’s rights. We’ve watched for thirty years as the Republican neo-conservative policy makers and neo-liberal economists have attempted to deconstruct the New Deal and take down the safety nets protecting from poverty the poorest and most vulnerable among us; the elderly, the poor, the disabled, the blind, the widows, and the orphans.

Now, we are bearing witness to the effects of the cabal of reactionary right-wing politicians, whacked-out religious fundamentalists masquerading as Christians, and opportunistic mendicants, sociopaths, and white-collar felons attempt to destroy what little is left of the America we respect and love after having stolen two national elections. Their efforts are not pro-American. They are not patriotic. They are anti-American and unpatriotic. They are degenerate and obscenely criminal.

Those things which Gompers cited are not extraordinary. They are not unobtainable. They are not pie-in-the-sky. They are not Utopian dreaming. They are the essential human rights and basic aspirations of all persons. Those who would deny them to us are the enemy. They are the descendants of the industrialists, the scabs, and the gun-thugs of Gompers' time. As much as time goes by and brings about change, some things change not at all.

We must do as was done then, Educate, Organize and Mobilize in order to fight for, and achieve, and hold on to, those basic human rights which Samuel Gompers so eloquently iterated over 100-years ago.

I leave you with this thought: We all warm our hands at fires which were built by those who came before us, and we all drank from wells that were dug by others. We all, each of us, you and I, have a moral obligation to keep those fires burning brightly and those wells flowing!

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