Labor Day came and went without much notice. Between the fires, the smoke, the heat, the pandemic, the politics, Labor Day was passed by. Having a three-day weekend isn’t special when you can’t leave home. As sad as it makes me feel, prior to the lockdown, having the three-day weekend was probably the thing most people enjoyed about Labor Day. Somewhere along our winding path we lost track from where we came.
America used to make products which we sold among ourselves and to others. Today it seems like most Americans push or pedal paper or deal in endeavors that are digital and often ephemeral.
When was the last time you shook hands with someone and felt calluses?
I grew up in a steel mill town surrounded by union mill workers. Unions are a reaction not an action. If an employer treats his or her workers fairly there is no need for a union. Unions only come into existence when workers feel abused, when workers think they have no alternative. When people band together, they create power and strength. In the 1950s unions had power and protected their people.
If it weren’t for unions, we would not have a 40-hour work week, vacation time, sick leave (and in days gone by, workers’ benefits).
Gradually, I witnessed the decline of unions. The first telltale sign of the coming demise was when one could no longer tell by looking which side of the negotiating table represented labor and which side represented management. They both were wearing expensive suits, driving fancy cars and were represented by high priced attorneys. Unions were corrupted by the money and power. Soon thereafter, unions sold out the workers when the steel union contract included a clause that prohibited workers’ strikes, the only leverage they had. Today unions are almost non-existent. It’s no coincidence that the average nationwide minimum wage of $7.50 hasn’t increased in 20 years. Yet, today, a CEO can make 300 times as much as his or her workers. That is wrong.
This pandemic should have shown us that the country needs its “essential” workers and that those who are “essential” are our real workers. Farm laborers got no stay-at-home orders. Minimum wage grocery workers, drug store clerks, truck drivers and other service industry workers proved they are essential to our everyday existence. I hope some of us have learned to honor such people who toil at jobs serving the rest of us while not making enough money to pay their bills.
Capitalism works when money is circulated. You give a poor person money he or she will spend it. You give a rich person money he or she will just throw it on the pile. We need change. But those who control the wealth don’t want change. And, in America today the poor are too easily manipulated, with false promises, to even realize change is possible. The rest of us, in the middle, spend most of our time and energy just trying to survive financially.
We live in a culture that worships money and the means to acquire it is irrelevant. The rich are held in high esteem. The poor are ignored or abused. We judge our economy on how well the stock market does, when only a small portion of the population have any vested interest in stocks.
Can we change that? I have to hope we can.
Labor Day came and went, as did honoring labor. So, right now I want to thank workers, to give them their due respect. And, to remind everyone that all work is honorable.
Gabriel A. Fraire has been a writer more than 45 years. He can be reached through his website at: www.gabrielfraire.com