Labor Day 2013
By BILL LONDRIGAN, President, Kentucky State AFL-CIO
On behalf of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO Executive Board, affiliates and members please accept our best wishes for a safe and enjoyable Labor Day 2013! Don’t forget to attend a union-sponsored Labor Day event in your area.
Over the years I have heard and read many predictions about the future of the labor movement. Most are centered on the notion that until workers become so desperate and exploited and no longer fear the consequences of employer reprisals will there be a union resurgence in America. I liken this to the pendulum effect which posits that economic fortunes swing between the few and the many.
It is easy to see which way the pendulum has swung during the past forty-plus years, and that is in the direction of the few to the detriment of the many. In fact, the pendulum has swung so far away from the many that it is about to break loose from its pivot point and bring the entire world economic system crashing down.
The facts are indisputable. The richest few have accumulated the greatest concentrations of wealth in the history of capitalism. While accumulating this unprecedented wealth they have denied others an equitable share of the wealth they helped create.
Consider that the heirs to Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton have more combined wealth than 40% of the rest of the entire population of the United States America! All the while Wal-Mart denies workers the right to organize, exploits workers by making them work uncompensated time, has the largest number of workers on public assistance and refuses to make sure that workers in other countries, like Bangladesh, where over a thousand workers were killed in a building collapse while sewing garments for Wal-Mart, have safe working conditions.
The incomes of the top 1% have increased over 240% since 1979, corporate profits are at record levels while wages have stagnated, the middle class has shrunk, union density declined and those put in public office by the 1% have voted to cut off food stamps to millions of families with children as poverty rates soar.
We have a U.S. Senator named Mitch McConnell who has been in office for 23 years thanks mostly to donations from his wealthy friends and corporate stooges, while personally accumulating over $20 million on a $174,000 annual salary. The 1% bought our political system which has stacked the U.S. Supreme Court which paid them back with their Citizens United decision granting corporate personhood so that mega-corporations can engage in the political process as equal partners with you and me. The game has been rigged and the results are devastating to those not in the top income brackets.
Getting back to that pendulum, if you look beyond the corporate-owned mainstream media you might find that even if the pendulum has not really begun to swing away from the wealthy it may very well have reached its apex. We may very well be witnessing at this very moment in history the beginnings, the sparks of a resurgence of labor activism which has the potential to eclipse the worker uprising of the 1930s.
Humbug you say! How could that be when the labor growth that took place in the 1930s was primarily focused on mass production and heavy industries and, with the exception of a small number of employers, management has learned how to thwart unions in mass production and heavy industries? The answer is that union resurgence is occurring in occupations in the service sector where the wages remain lowest and the ability to provide for a family virtually impossible without a second job and public assistance. It is happening right now in some of the larger cities, where much of the labor uprisings occurred during the 1930s – New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Milwaukee.
Yes, workers at fast food restaurants in cities across the nation are doing something that workers in virtually every other industry have abandoned… they are going on strike. They are going public with their issues – low pay, lack of benefits, long hours, dignity and they have held one-day and two-day strikes, lunch time strikes, demonstrations and rallies and are bringing communities together to support their struggle for improved living and working conditions. Just as millions of workers learned in the 1930s, today’s workers are finding out that their only source of power is to be organized and the only way to be assured of a measure of fair remuneration and dignity on the job is through collective bargaining!
Workers at Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Wendy’s, Dunkin Donuts, Subway, Sears, Macy’s, and Guitar Center Stores have suddenly been willing to put it on the line. They have labored long and hard and not benefitted in a satisfactory manner from their labor. They have been pushed too far. The pendulum has swung too far!
Just recognizing the facts surrounding the status of workers in America and around the globe on this Labor Day 2013 is the beginning of an understanding of your position on the pendulum’s travel. If you haven’t yet figured out that if you are reading this, you are on the “us” side since you either work for a living or are retired and not on the “them” side where the obscenely wealthy reside. Once you understand this basic design then you can begin to see that the only way to balance the power and wealth of the few is through organizing the many into unions able to challenge corporate power.
Don’t give up hope on this Labor Day. There is much to be hopeful about. There is a stirring in the land. A spark has been lit. The rich have gotten too rich and the poor too poor and the rest squeezed in the declining middle. Just as the workers who occupied their workplaces in sit-down strikes sparked a mass movement of millions of workers who joined unions and created the great American middle-class, so too will the workers in our post-industrial service economy rise up and take control of their destinies and organize millions of like-minded, economically disenfranchised workers and spontaneously ignite the resurgence of the American trade union movement.
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