Labor Day 2015 — a call to action
If I were to choose two words to describe the state of labor and work in America today, they would be “precarious” and “devalued.”
Precarious because the majority of new jobs are part-time, temporary or subcontracted. Devalued because wages keep sliding downward, producing ever-declining standards of living for working people.
Who could possibly live on the current minimum wage? Your family? I don’t think so. No family can survive on $7.25 an hour.
And when that low pay comes with an unreliable number of hours and a changing schedule that makes a necessary second job hard to arrange, then many workers face a never-ending and deepening crisis.
You might think, well, then there’s little or nothing to celebrate on Labor Day this year. But you would be wrong. Activism among this nation’s worst-paid and most marginalized employees is growing and spreading.
Fast-food restaurant workers, retail workers, domestics, taxi cab drivers, home-care workers — they have been up in arms and in the streets protesting unacceptable labor standards and wages.
Of course, it is not just low-wage workers who are beginning to read the writing on the wall. On the railroads, companies want to cut one of two workers left on board. At a time when trains are getting longer and their cargo more toxic, chief executives only think about squeezing out more profit.
The top “1 percent” of Americans has never been as rich as it is today. Their outrageous fortunes, some in the billions of dollars, translate into our country’s eroding infrastructure, urban wastelands, unacceptably high unemployment and widespread frustration and anger.
But the devastation will not stop with the African-American or Latino communities. As more workers demand “good, safe jobs,” the target will shift, as it always has, to include worker protests as well. Just think back in our history.
The first international Labor Day was May 1, 1886. As millions battled across the country for an eight-hour workday, police, militias and armies brought violence and death to what had been nonviolent protests.
The unity and determination of workers in 1886 sounded an alarm for the robber barons of the U.S., whose response was to crush organized labor before it resulted in lower profits. Workers faced bullets and repression that set back the labor movement for decades.
The recent rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, showed many of us that time is running out for the elite. Dehumanizing the people who built this nation has hit the wall of indignation, anger and selfrighteousness.
We have the right to rebel, the right to unionize, the right to stop business as usual until the work we do benefits us, our society and the world.