Trump and la­bor

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Arthur J. Magida “Oh! isn’t it a pity, such a pretty girl as I Should be sent to the fac­tory to pine away and die? Oh! I can­not be a slave, I will not be a slave, For I’m so fond of lib­erty That I can­not be a slave.” “… so fond of lib­erty That I can­not

And so ends an­other sum­mer. No more swim­min’ holes, ham­mocks, bar­be­cues or lemon­ade. They’re over, and sum­mer’s over.

That’s what La­bor Day is all about, right? The end of one sea­son and the be­gin­ning of an­other? Wrong! La­bor Day cel­e­brates la­bor in the United States — the men and women who, through sweat of brow and dint of dis­ci­pline, made this na­tion what it is, and who still do.

La­bor Day has been around quite a while. The first rel­e­vant lo­cal or­di­nances passed in 1885; the first state law es­tab­lish­ing La­bor Day — Ore­gon’s — passed two years later. Sim­i­lar laws soon fol­lowed in 30 states, then a fed­eral law in 1894. All this orig­i­nated with Peter J. McGuire, gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Broth­er­hood of Car­pen­ters and Join­ers, who pro­posed a day to honor those “who from rude na­ture have delved and carved all the grandeur we be­hold.” On a good day, we still be­hold that grandeur, though too fre­quently we negate it thanks to out­sourc­ing to places we’d rather not step foot in or be­cause of a snotty, bour­geois re­flex that el­e­vates our minds above our hands.

In 1835, one of the first strikes in the United States oc­curred in the tex­tile mills of Low­ell, Mass. About 1,500 girls and young women — some un­der 10 years of age, most 16 to 25 years of age — walked out of the mills where they la­bored from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m., six days a week. They were furious that their bosses planned to slash their wages. March­ing through the streets, the mill work­ers sang their fa­vorite song, “I Won’t Be a Nun”:

The strike was a dud, and the bondage con­tin­ued. The girls were back in the mills af­ter a few weeks out of them, sweat­ing through their 15-hour work days while si­lently hum­ming “I Won’t Be a Nun” — free of con­vents, but not of cap­i­tal­ists.

Around the same time, car­pen­ters, ma­sons and stone­cut­ters in Boston de­manded that their 13-hour work day be cut to 10. As in Low­ell, these ef­forts also failed, and the men re­turned to work, no bet­ter off than be­fore.

In the 180 years since these strikes in New Eng­land — the crude, not very suc­cess­ful ori­gins of or­ga­nized la­bor in this coun­try — enor­mous strides have been made for the work­ing stiff: Laws have short­ened work hours and the work week, im­proved oc­cu­pa­tional safety, and guar­an­teed a min­i­mum wage and some de­gree of fam­ily leave. Yet a cer­tain huck­ster wants to erase most of that progress. In an in­ter­view on Fox News in July, Don­ald Trump took three con­trary po­si­tions on the min­i­mum wage in less than 30 se­conds, first re­ject­ing the need for a min­i­mum wage, then promis­ing he’d raise it “some­what” (though not defin­ing “some­what”), and fi­nally con­ced­ing that a min­i­mum wage of $10 seemed rea­son­able, but “we’ll let the states do it.”

Thus, Mr. Trump aban­doned any pres­i­den­tial bur­den to en­sure a hu­mane liv­ing wage.

Mr. Trump has also told a gath­er­ing of women that they would re­ceive the same pay as men “if you do as good a job.”

At least boys and girls work­ing in 19th-cen­tury mills earned the same, even if was a pit­tance.

Mr. Trump has lit­tle re­gard for wages on his own projects: Trump Tower in New York was built on a site cleared by un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grant work­ers from Poland. When rul­ing on a law­suit that had dragged on for 19 years, a fed­eral court noted that the Poles were promised $4 to $5 an hour for 12-hour shifts, seven days a week. In­stead, the court stated, they “were paid ir­reg­u­larly and in­com­pletely, sometimes with personal checks, which were re­turned by the bank for in­suf­fi­cient funds.”

At least un­der­paid work­ers in 19th­cen­tury mills were un­der­paid on time.

And de­spite Mr. Trump’s vaunted vows to re­turn jobs to Amer­ica, Trump re­galia — shirts, eye­glasses, per­fume, cuff links and suits — are made in Bangladesh, China, Hon­duras and other low-wage coun­tries.

At least cot­ton was made in Low­ell, even if those who made it could barely af­ford it.

So, no: La­bor Day is not about the end of sum­mer. It is about la­bor, which has come too far over too long a time to let an (al­leged) bil­lion­aire turn back the clock so vi­ciously, so un­con­scionably.

It’s mind-bog­gling that Mr. Trump is so con­trary to the Amer­i­can re­flex for fair­ness and jus­tice. If he gains the Oval Of­fice, we risk not just de­fam­ing the worth of la­bor but un­rav­el­ing the union that joins us as a peo­ple and as a na­tion, a union that de­rives its strength from la­bor, from the do­main of law and com­mu­nity, and that flows from a well-crafted eti­quette re­gard­ing ca­ma­raderie and de­cency. La­bor Day ex­ists to re­mind us, as the girls in the cot­ton mills of Low­ell, Mass., sang, that we’re

Sum­mer­mayend­to­day, but our yearn­ing for lib­erty and dig­nity — the lib­erty and the dig­nity we forge with our hands and our hearts, our imag­i­na­tions and our cre­ativ­ity — as­suredly does not.


Work­ers picket out­side the Trump Taj Ma­hal ho­tel and casino in At­lantic City, N.J.

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