Where Labor Day Came From, And Where It’s Going
Webster’s dictionary tells us that Labor Day was “set aside for special recognition of working people.”
That’s nice, but “set aside” by whom? It certainly wasn’t the Wall Street corporate and political powers that be. They nearly swallowed their cigars when the idea of honoring labor’s importance to America’s economy and social well-being was first proposed in 1882. Rather, this holiday was created by the workers themselves, requiring a 12-year grassroots struggle that finally culminated with an act of Congress in 1894.
The campaign helped coalesce unions into a national movement. And its message of labor’s essential role also countered the haughty insistence of the robber barons of that time. The barons insisted that they were America’s “makers” — the invaluable few whose monopolistic pursuits should be unfettered. For they claimed that they and their corporations were the God-ordained creators of wealth.
Notice that the American people do not celebrate a CEO Day, despite their bloated sense of self-importance. Indeed, as Abraham Lincoln put it, the real makers are the many ground-level workers who actually do the making: “Labor is prior to and independent of capital,” Abe declared in his first state of the union address. “Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”
Yet on Labor Day 2013, robber barons are again ascendant, declaring that they owe nothing — not even a shared prosperity — to the workers, consumers, taxpayers, and other American people who sustain them. Quite the opposite, they and their political henchmen are blithely shredding America’s social contract and again insisting that the corporate elite must be unfettered, unions eliminated, and middle-class jobs Wal-Marted.
This intentional hollowing out of our middle class is not just ignorant, but also immoral
Yet today’s establishment economists are asking: Why are so many people so glum? The Great Recession ended in 2009, they note, and even job creation is picking up. So come on people — get happy!
Maybe Labor Day is a good time to clue them in to one big reality behind this so-called “recovery:” Most Americans haven’t recovered. Not by a long shot. In June, median household income was still $3,400 less than in 2007, when Wall Street’s crash started the collapse of our real economy.