Ten years ago, I didn’t know what Labor Day was for. At that time, it meant that I got paid an extra $2.50/hr if I volunteered to work that day. It wasn’t until I took American History in College that I began to understand the struggles that people went through to put an end to child labor, to get an eight hour work day, to get lunch breaks, to get a weekend, and later to get paid leave, benefits, pensions, worker’s compensation and representation in disputes.
I’d read about the Haymarket Riots of 1886, the Railroad Riots of 1877, the Flour Riot of 1837, and the large numbers of people who died for worker’s rights. Even after learning about this other “civil war”, I didn’t fully understand what these things meant for me. I had worked jobs that didn’t offer full time positions, didn’t have benefits or paid leave, and didn’t close on holidays. I vaguely remembered a teacher’s strike when I was in the fourth grade. I went to the union meeting with my grandmother, and I walked the picket lines with her one day. She kept me out of school that week except for one day that I insisted I needed to attend for some assignment. She was angry that I broke the picket lines, but she allowed me to go. I had little understanding of what any of this meant then.
Once I started my current job, I learned quickly how the machines of commerce and government can abandon it’s workforce. I became even more grateful for the state medical benefits that I had once relied on, and was now administering. I was grateful for the benefits that my job offered, and a wage that I could actually live on. I signed up for Union membership as soon as I was able, and today, am even more grateful for it.
Unfortunately, Unions have become a scapegoat for the G.O.P. They blame Unions for the high cost of conducting business to justify outsourcing jobs to other countries without looking at the compensation and bonus packages of management and stockholder dividends. They cry that Unions are killing Small Business while Big Business undercuts Ma and Pa at every corner. The same people that want to cut health, food and cash benefits for the under- and un-employed are the same people that want to prevent Employers from being responsible for providing these things. Their interests lie solely in maximum profit rather than the welfare of the people who create that profit.
In today’s society, where soundbytes have replaced rational thought and common sense, where personal responsibility is a foriegn concept, debt is the only way to get ahead, education is wrote memorization of carefully constructed curriculi, and fear is force fed to us via the sense of lack created by mass marketing- in this society, people feel helpless to stand up for what they really need. Most people in this society have a false sense of entitlement without understanding the history and true sense of need that led to the benefits that some enjoy today. This sense of entitlement and fear have become Big Business’ weapon against the working class. Unions are but one tool for the masses to take responsibility for their needs.
This Labor day, my hope is that people will reflect on what is truly important to them. I hope that all who are lucky enough to be employed, or to have a pension will share this information with others, and be grateful for the individuals and organizations that make this possible.