Saturday, September 02, 2006

Labor Day

As the son-in-law pointed out the other day, the loss of wages in this is the direct result of the loss of union representation. In 1971, I began a job as a bartender. It was at a Labor Temple in northern Wisco. Try to find one of those anymore, but the way. Sadly, that labor temple was knocked down for a real estate office. That is a real tragedy. Anyway, the bartenders had been organized as Teamsters, a truly progressive Teamster local taught me a lot. I was paid the princely sum of $3.50 an hour, with double-time 7 holidays during a year. I got married while I worked at that bar & had we become pregnant, my benefits would have paid for everything during the pregnancy. It was a great job & what made it great were the patrons. These were working men & women who knew what work was & who knew what banding together into a union meant. Most of the union folks were members of a paper maker's local. My wife & I left that town in 1972 to move farther north & a bit west. I'm still a Teamster, inactive status. We live near enough to Duluth, MN, the 3rd most organized city in America, so the union movement hasn't been lost or diluted. But these losses in wages are real things for real people. The wealthy haven't suffered at all. & to show y'all how bad it is, remember the $7 an hour I made on 7 days a year back in 1971? Well, in my local county, that's what the local government is offering for a wage for people to work as mentors for at-risk or adjudicated youth. In 35 years nothing has happened for the low end worker. & remember, working with at-risk youth requires a lot of stamina, love, intelligence, & a willingness to flip-off the local schools, D.A.s, & social service departments when they need it. $7 an hour! It's more than an outrage. But this is where 26 years of Alzheimer's Ronnie, Bu$hCo I, Clinton's "Ending Welfare As We Know It Bullshit", & Bu$hCo II's hatred of the poor & middle class have got us. Proud? Feeling safer yet?
LABOR DAY was created by the machinists union in New York in 1882 as a ``workingmen's holiday." Unions all over America adopted the idea. By 1894, Congress passed legislation making Labor Day an official holiday. The day also celebrated the act of organizing, politically and in the workplace, to improve livelihoods and lives.

Today, the politics have largely been leached out of it. Labor Day is a long weekend that marks summer's end.

And that extra day of rest is needed more than ever. Government statistics show that the typical family works about 500 more hours a year than families did 30 years ago, because it takes two incomes to make it. Even so, family incomes are failing to keep pace with the cost of living.

This past week, these items have been in the news:

The Census Bureau reported that median incomes for working-age families were down again, for the fifth straight year. Real median income for households under age 65 is down by 5.4 percent since 2000, even though the economy has grown every year. All of that gain has gone to upper-bracket people and corporate profits.

The Pew Research Center released an extensive survey on public attitudes about the economy. Pew reported, ``The public thinks that workers were better off a generation ago on every key dimension of worker life -- be it wages, benefits, retirement plans, on-the-job stress, the loyalty they are shown by employers." And, statistically, the public is right.

The Globe recently reported that chief executives of nonprofit hospitals now routinely make more than $1 million. University presidents are not far behind.

The Economic Policy Institute (on whose board I serve) has released its annual, encyclopedic report, ``The State of Working America." Among its findings: The economy's productivity increased by a remarkable 33.5 percent between 1995 and 2005, but real wages have declined since 2000. Employer-provided health coverage declined from 69 percent in 1979 to 56 percent in 2004. The top 1 percent's share of interest, dividends, and capital gains has risen from 37.8 percent in 1979 to 57.5 percent in 2003.

Politically, it's evident what is occurring. Those in a position to capture astronomical incomes are awarding themselves an ever-larger share of the national economic pie. Meanwhile, ordinary incomes, job security, health security, and retirement security are eroding.
So this Labor Day, at the beach or in town, we suffer not just from reduced economic opportunity but diminished political imagination. You can ignore politics, but you can't escape it. So we might as well reclaim democracy to benefit the many rather than the few.

Democracy. Has it, too, become a quaint idea?

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