La­bor Day 2015 — a call to ac­tion

Post-Tribune - - Opinion - RUTH NEEDLEMAN GUEST OPIN­ION Ruth Needleman is a Gary res­i­dent and a pro­fes­sor emerita of la­bor stud­ies at In­di­ana Univer­sity North­west.

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.

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