Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor Day

Somehow, I haven't felt much like celebrating Labor Day these last few years. Consider the history of Labor Day, as told by PBS, back when they still did journalism:

In an attempt to appease the nation's workers, Labor Day is born

The movement for a national Labor Day had been growing for some time. In September 1892, union workers in New York City took an unpaid day off and marched around Union Square in support of the holiday. But now, protests against President Cleveland's harsh methods [during the Pullman Strike] made the appeasement of the nation's workers a top political priority. In the immediate wake of the strike, legislation was rushed unanimously through both houses of Congress, and the bill arrived on President Cleveland's desk just six days after his troops had broken the Pullman strike.

1894 was an election year. President Cleveland seized the chance at conciliation, and Labor Day was born. He was not reelected.

The Origins of Labor Day

It was begun by a Democratic President hoping that a basically empty gesture would make up for his unwavering support of the rich against workers. That support for the rich, incidentally, included bloody actions by the U.S. Army and the Marshals Service to break the strike. In Cleveland's case, it didn't work out so well.

Labor leader Eugene V. Debs was imprisoned by Cleveland's administration for advocating on behalf of the Pullman workers. He emerged from prison a socialist.

Here we are now at the beginning of the Twenty-First Century, and it looks like we are seeing history replay, just with a new twist. This is a march by March On Wall Street South, in Charlotte, North Carolina yesterday:

Braving extreme heat, more than 2,500 people from throughout the South and across the U.S. filled the streets of Charlotte on Sun., Sept. 2 for the March on Wall Street South. The demonstration confronted the banks and corporations headquartered in Charlotte that are wreaking havoc on communities throughout the country, and raised a people’s agenda for jobs and justice as the Democratic National Convention convenes here.


Along the march, demonstrators stopped in front of the Bank of America’s world headquarters and Duke Energy’s headquarters. At each stop, people who have been directly impacted by the practices of these banks and corporations –whose homes are being foreclosed on, who have massive amounts of student loan debt, and whose communities are being devastated by coal mining and energy rate hikes — spoke out and exposed these profit gauging institutions.

2,500 march on Wall Street South: We need jobs, housing, justice, not war!

After ignoring the recall race in Wisconsin, and doing nothing on labor's behalf when the Democrats had a huge majority in Congress, President Obama and the Democrats are holding their convention in one of the more notorious "right to work" states in the union, in a convention center they refuse to acknowledge publicly is named after Bank of America.

What's the reaction of labor leaders to all of this? Maybe it's best summed up by AFSCME President Lee Saunders, as quoted by BuzzFeed:

Saunders doesn’t hide his disappointment with the selection of North Carolina as the convention state.

“Charlotte wouldn’t have been our choice as a city,” Saunders told reporters after his Ohio delegation breakfast speech. “It’s in a right to work state, it’s tough to organize down here for private and public sector unions. “

“But we’re beyond that now,” Saunders said. “I mean, it’s over. Charlotte was selected and we’ve got to keep our eyes on the prize and that’s to win in November, and we can’t get caught up in B.S. to be quite honest with you.”

Saunders struck a hopeful note. “We’re going to continue to move forward, we’re going to continue to organize. We’re going to be just fine.”

Labor Brings Its Frustrations To Charlotte

Can you imagine a sharper contrast between this guy and Eugene Debs? Debs went to jail for his cause. Saunders won't even risk punishing Democrats for the obvious snub of holding this convention in North Carolina, and all the past nonsupport on a whole range of issues. Richard Trumka's bright idea of only supporting Democrats who had earned labor's support was still born. Only a few weeks later, he endorsed Obama and pledged to support him. Why? I think it's because that's just too great a risk - if he didn't support Obama, anything that happened regarding government's treatment of labor would be Trumka's fault.

These guys won't even risk their jobs for their cause.

When you get right down to it, what I wrote after the failed Wisconsin recall election is just as true today:

Labor unions have been led by people for quite some time now who are happy to just collect their paychecks and go home. This is a big part of the problem they have, because it's become abundantly clear to anyone who is paying attention that Democrats in general, particularly at the national level, or unsympathetic at best, and hostile at worst, to labor's interests. Yet labor unions have refused to stop acting as though the Democrats are their best buddies in the whole world.

What's worse, when people who run things aren't committed to the interests of their rank and file, it makes it hard to persuade that rank and file to do things that they would otherwise not see as being in their best interests in order to make their collective power greater.

All Over But The Shouting: Wisconsin Recall Edition

This is the reason labor isn't getting what it wants - its leaders won't fight for it, and its rank and file won't demand that they do. Until that changes, we'll be seeing a lot more mournful Labor Days.

Enjoy your Labor Day if you can possibly do it. You deserve it, and things aren't likely to get better any time soon.


Anonymous said...

59in two (or more) parts, since Blogger didn't bother to inform me of the character limit until I asked to submit my comment:)

I came back here to get the link the US Citizenship Test, and ran into this.

I had just been thinking about Labor Day myself.

My understanding is that although labor unions sound like an OK idea at first or in the abstract, in reality, the things that I hear about them..
(Card Check, hooliganism against anyone who tries to stand up to them, being in bed with Obama, ...)

..makes it sound to me like they're just another organization whose goal is only their own power, and they're willing to go to any ends that they think they can get away with to achieve them.

Your contentment with the facile simplistic division of employed people into "workers" vs "the rich" seems to me to strongly suggest that you have accepted the Marxist philosophy, in this area at least, leaving no place for people who work at a higher level than with their hands, and whose work is not such a commodity thing as to make them have any need for unionization.

a couple more issues that maybe I need you to set me straight on:

I take "right to work" to mean pretty much what it sounds like - viz. that one can get a job w/o having to join a union and thereby have to submit to whatever totalitarian practices that they deem to their benefit to require.

I'm not seeing what's wrong with that in principle. Is there some fact of reality (ie, not counting whatever would be better for the unions) that I'm unaware of that says that unions ought to be able to whatever they want to?

My understanding is that during the ~auto crisis~, Obama basically gave one of those companies to the unions - ignoring in the process the at least equal claims of everyone else. Again, I wonder what it is that I must be missing.

And I wonder whether you've ever actually worked for someone that you toss into the category of "the rich" (which, again, I take you to mean anyone who doesn't work with his hands).

DisplayName said...

Although I myself haven't had the most positive work experience imaginable, I did find that all my "bosses", although they were certainly, as employees themselves, focused on the good of the company.. remains that none of them thought it even imaginable to trample on their employees as a means to that end.

So the dichotomy that I have seen in my life is between those who think that it's only right that their employment be at the option of their employer, whom they need to satisfy with their work product - and those who choose to try to achieve employment safety and a higher pay than they otherwise could get by forcing everyone to join together with them into an entity that is large enough that it can effectively force its employer to bow to their demands.

Have you considered how much unemployment minimum-wage laws cause? Why should a (prospective) employer have to pay a substantial proportion more than he thinks that a person's work is worth? Because that person "needs" a job? Are corporations then welfare agencies?

In what sense is it the fault of mortgage holders that people - enabled by Progressive, demagogic government intervention in the mortgage market - chose to contract to a mortgage that they had no reasonable likelihood of being able to support (and thus be forced into the position of having either to foreclose or - again - become yet another welfare agency?

Who do you think is responsible for a gradute's student-loan debt? the banks?!??? How about the student who chose to take out those loans, presumably after having made the calculation that his higher education was worth it?

That kind of thing makes me wonder whether you understand where money (wealth) comes from. It is not the case that the government creates it. (They sure can print pieces of paper that they legally demand that we all accept as actual money, but that's quite a different thing: That amounts - rather directly - only to stealing wealth from those who have saved it, and redistributing it to those who "need: it (and can be expected to vote for the redistributor).

Wealth is created by those who work to produce it.

DisplayName said...

(That comment was by Ryan Dyne.)

Cujo359 said...

First off, sorry about that character limit. It's not something I have control over. If it's any consolation, I've added a thought about that to the commenting rules page.

Meanwhile, there's this, to start with:

Your contentment with the facile simplistic division of employed people into "workers" vs "the rich" seems to me to strongly suggest that you have accepted the Marxist philosophy, in this area at least, leaving no place for people who work at a higher level than with their hands, and whose work is not such a commodity thing as to make them have any need for unionization.

Talk about facile. Let's start with the obvious formulation implied here:

Marxist == bad == wrong

Something can be unpleasant to contemplate without being bad, and something can be bad without being wrong. There's a name for this sort of thinking. It's called guilt by association.

Marx was a careful observer of the world around him. His observations about economics are instructive, even if you end up disagreeing about his proposed solutions. His concept of commodity fetishism is something we see in play every day. It's one of the reasons I write things like this. Discussions of the value of something are so far removed from the effort it took to create it that most of us, me included, sometimes need reminding.

As for that "facile simplistic division", most of us who work ultimately work for the rich. That's how it is, and if you don't know that already, wait a few years.

I'm perfectly aware that unions aren't what they used to be. That's what this article is saying. But to imply that they are ultimately just another despotic power is to ignore that without a union, most skilled and unskilled workers (and an increasing number of professional workers) have no real defense. If they can't find other work, they're stuck with whatever the employer wants to do. I'm glad to have a "despot" that is at least sometimes working for my benefit in those cases.

My understanding is that during the ~auto crisis~, Obama basically gave one of those companies to the unions

Your understanding is colossally wrong. New workers come into the industry at little more than minimum wage, with few, if any, of the benefits the older workers have.

Have you considered how much unemployment minimum-wage laws cause?

Yes. In fact, what in the world makes you think I hadn't considered it? Oh, wait, my "facile simplistic division" of people into the groups they are largely in.

The answer is that this relationship is simplistic nonsense. Here's a Wikipedia link that leads to a lot of opinion on that topic. I'll give you the executive summary, though: this view completely ignores that economies are much more than what simple P-Q curves represent. They are complex systems with feedback and non-obvious relationships that dwarf any effect the minimum wage has on employment. Oh, and a job that pays only minimum wage means you're at or under the poverty line in America. How much is a job worth when it's not a living?

I think you need to contemplate that last question awhile before trying to "set me straight" on anything.