Labor Day Is A National Holiday?
In Presidential election years in the United States, Labor Day is often referred to as the unofficial start of the general election campaign. What can workers look forward to in terms of having their needs addressed for the remainder of this campaign and during the advent of the new administration? Thus far, with the possible exception of two hot-button issues – immigration and trade policy – it has been tough to nail down either major party candidate in terms of how they will each deal with the major issues affecting the lives of members of the American working class.
At least since as far back as the New Deal, the Democratic Party has been perceived as the party representing workers’ interests in our government, while the GOP has been perceived as defenders of a status quo most beneficial to economic and corporate elites. The Republicans like to dispute this characterization, claiming that their tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations make job creation easier, raising prospects for all in our society, but unions and others look at the results of nearly four decades worth of trickle-down economics, right-to-work (for less) laws passed in predominantly Republican-controlled state legislatures and scoff at such claims.
Donald Trump is taking a non-traditional (from a standard GOP perspective) approach in attacking the TPP trade pact as a means by which to further accelerate the trend of American corporations to shift manufacturing to countries with lower wages and harsher working conditions – thus losing good paying jobs for workers in this country. This stance has gained him some traction among white blue collar workers who know this has happened with NAFTA and other international trade deals which preceded the TPP. He promises to scrap the TPP and rework trade terms to bring jobs back to this country from abroad. Little mention is made of the fact that many of his companies have thrived on using cheap foreign labor to make their products. Bringing manufacturing back here would be more by means of lowering wages and worsening working conditions in this country rather than by improving them abroad.
Trump’s approach to immigration also attempts to pit American workers against immigrants to this country. He states that undocumented immigrants are stealing jobs from American citizens by working for lower wages. Millions of immigrants lower wages by competing for a finite number of jobs. Of course, Trump’s enterprises have also benefitted from lowered wages caused by an overabundance of adequately skilled workers. He merely gives part of the story, feeding into workers’ fears of never being able to achieve the American Dream due to inadequate border security.
Little is being said in the campaign so far of bread and butter worker concerns like increasing wages and improving benefits available to workers in this country. Hillary Clinton has had little to say about working for such issues as raising the minimum wage, improving access to affordable health care and higher education or providing benefits such as paid sick leave, vacation and family leave, except in response to the urgings of her primary opponent for the nomination – Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders, while being unsuccessful in his attempt to gain the nomination, was able to gain traction with his progressive policy message concerning labor and the economy. She has made some movement in the direction of workers vis-a-vis their bosses in these areas as a result of the support he brought to the campaign. As the first major party woman presidential nominee, she certainly also needs to show interest in gender equality issues in the workforce and society as a whole.
This Labor Day sees more workers than in the past working on their holiday. Other than banks, schools and government entities, most businesses seem to treat it like just another Monday. Retail stores, restaurants, and other segments of our increasingly service-sector economy stay open for business – meaning many workers end up working holidays just like any other workday. Some employers will pay a premium to those who work, while others will not. There is no legal requirement that they do so, just as there is no legal requirement for paid sick leave, vacation or family leave in most occupations in most of the country (some local ordinances to the contrary).
This pro-corporate profit/anti-worker attitude towards holidays is true of all holidays, not just Labor Day. Often, those at the bottom of the economic pyramid get the least consideration in this regard. How many businesses remain open 365 days a year now? I’m not talking about essential services like hospitals, police and fire protection and places like that. Most employees in such occupations are recognized (and compensated) for their sacrifice in having to work holidays. Grocery stores, discount retail outlets, convenience stores, restaurants and other businesses stay open to get that added business. CEOs and other corporate bigwigs may get them off with full pay, but cashiers and others are not so lucky. In recent years, some noise has been made about making employees at Walmart and other large corporations work on Thanksgiving Day, but little has come of it so far.
Much public advocacy for higher wages and improved benefits for workers has been taking place over the past eight years. President Obama himself has spoken of such issues prominently in his State of the Union Addresses, and even made some proposals to Congress. The Federal Minimum Wage has remained stagnant for the past decade – despite a rising call for it to be more than doubled and made a livable wage. An ever-increasing number of states and municipalities have succeeded in raising it for their jurisdictions in spite of the refusal of Congress to act on the matter. The fact that the vast majority of gains made during the recovery from the Great Recession have gone to the top 1% of earners is an indictment of our economic system as well as the efficacy of the elected officials charged with overseeing the welfare of the populace as a whole.
Donald Trump, despite his claims of being the only one who can fix this country so it benefits us all, sows seeds of division and pits different groups of people against each other who have more in common than either has with him. His blatant hate speech seeks to provoke anger and violence against false enemies in order to increase his own political power and enhance his own celebrity. Hillary Clinton at least has some well thought-out policy positions on issues near and dear to many of our hearts. Hopefully, we can apply enough pressure to ensure she follows through on the Party Platform passed at their convention if elected.
The vast majority of residents of this country have far more in common with each other than they have with either major party candidate. A pity that our political system has become so corrupted that we find ourselves forced to choose among elite oligarchs who have so little true knowledge of us or the lives we lead. It would be nice if at some point, the candidates would address our concerns with more than mere platitudes and promises of a brighter tomorrow. Maybe they could actually do something to fix our economy, reduce inequality, remove social injustice and eradicate insane murderous hatred (or at least make it more difficult to act upon). Maybe they could also stop trying to outdo each other in their desire to use military might to impose their will on the rest of the world.
As for Labor Day, the least we deserve is for it to reflect the respect and dignity due to the people whose efforts make this country and society work at all. We’ve been dealing with increasing economic inequality for far too long. Continuing to ignore the ill-effects of such a system will not improve the lives of any but the most fortunate among us. That is far from the justice which our wannabe leaders claim to want to give us. Making our very attainable goals come to fruition should be their mission – not making up excuses for why they couldn’t or wouldn’t do as promised.
Let this be the last election where we are asked to choose between a multi-billionaire who won’t pay for services rendered (and considers incessantly insulting opponents a sign of strength and an admirable quality) and a person who has mountains of sound policy positions but spends all her time raising money instead of effectively getting her message across to the voters. Labor Day needs to become more than the symbolic end of summer. Labor must be more than something that capitalists buy as cheaply as possible to attain maximum wealth without regard to the wellbeing of the people performing it. Workers rights must be strengthened worldwide to counteract the power that the few exercise over the many with increasingly disastrous results.