FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Labor Day Is a Time to Mobilize

by RALPH NADER

For far too many Americans, Labor Day is simply another day off, another store sale and another small parade. The meaning of the holiday has been dulled by both rampant commercialism and public apathy. Where is the passion for elevating the wellbeing of American workers? Shouldn’t Labor Day be a time to gather, contemplate and celebrate more just treatment of all those who toil without proper recognition or compensation?

Labor Day is the ideal time to highlight the hard-fought, historic victories already enjoyed by American workers, and push for long-overdue health and safety measures and increased economic benefits for those left behind by casino capitalism. After all, it was the labor movement in the early 20th century that brought us such advances as the minimum wage, overtime pay, the five-day work week, the banning of child labor and more.

The reality is that big corporations have abandoned American workers by taking jobs and industries to communist and fascist regimes abroad — regimes that oppress their workers and enforce serf-level salaries and hideous working conditions. America’s working men and women have also largely been abandoned by the corporate dominated Republican and Democrat two-party duopoly, whatever their rhetorical differences may be. The federal minimum wage has been allowed to languish far behind inflation as corporate bosses’ pay skyrockets. The gap between worker salaries and CEO pay widens, even as worker productivity rises. Corporate CEO’s in America make approximately 340 times more than that of the average worker. In 1980, by comparison, CEO pay was 42 times greater.

Look to the fast food strikers around the country for inspiration. Backed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), workers in cities across America are demanding fair pay at $15 an hour and the right to unionize. Beginning in New York City and spreading to other major cities, workers are beginning to rally and speak out against their poverty wages from hugely profitable fast food chains. Willietta Dukes, in a piece for The Guardian, writes:

Burger King says they can’t pay employees, like me, higher wages because it would force them out of business. Yet last year it made $117m[illion] in profits and its CEO took home $6.47m[illion]. It would take me 634 years to earn that much. I’ve worked in fast food for 15 years, and I can’t even afford my own rent payments. We just want fairness and to be able to provide for our families. No one who works every day should be forced to be homeless.

Where are the other advocates for American workers? Now is the time to speak out and push for long-overdue action.

Where is President Obama? Candidate Obama promised that he would press for a $9.50 federal minimum wage by 2011. Now, in 2013, he has settled for $9 by 2015. This is far less than what workers made in 1968, adjusted for inflation. If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation, it would be $10.70 today. If it kept up with worker productivity in the corporate sector, it would be $22.

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act into law in 1938 — which established the federal minimum wage amongst other things — it was in the face of considerable opposition and criticism from Big Business, not to mention in the midst of The Great Depression. This is the type of courageous leadership we need from the White House today.

A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal cited an analysis by Mark M. Gray, a researcher at Georgetown University, who found that President Obama “mentions the poor in his speeches less than any other president in decades” — even Ronald Reagan mentioned the poor in his speeches and public statements about twice as frequently.

What of the AFL-CIO, which represents 13 million American workers? I recently wrote a letter to its president, Richard Trumka, asking for his leadership in pushing for more attention about the plight of workers on this Labor Day. No response. The AFL-CIO has an opportunity for a major showing with rallies before the White House and Congress. Some reporters in the mainstream press have indicated they do not think the push for a higher minimum wage is serious without Mr. Trumka, President Obama, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid exerting serious efforts.

What of former President Bill Clinton? In his speech to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, President Clinton made passing rhetorical reference to “building a modern economy of good jobs and rising incomes.” But the time for simply talking about these issues is long past. What about publicly supporting Rep. Alan Grayson’s bill in Congress (H.R. 1346) which provides for a $10.50 minimum wage to catch up with 1968, and allow $30 million workers to afford more of life’s necessities for themselves and their children? The support of Mr. Clinton might help galvanize the media and those in Congress to make this into the front burner issue it deserves to be.

And, what about the leading Democratic Presidential candidates for 2016 — Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden? Why aren’t they seriously championing this important cause that is both good for the economy and for workers and their children?

In an ideal world, the Sunday political shows the day before Labor Day would feature various prominent labor leaders and discuss key issues like the minimum wage, income equality, trade and more.

Labor Day should be a moment for the nation to shine a light upon the rights and plights of the nation’s workers and recognize the need to reform restrictive labor laws, such as the notorious Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. After all, workers are the backbone of the economy.

(See here for facts and information on our efforts to raise the minimum wage to catch up with 1968, inflation adjusted, and find out how to get involved.)

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

Weekend Edition
February 5-7, 2016
Jeffrey St. Clair
When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine
John Pilger
Freeing Julian Assange: the Final Chapter
Garry Leech
Terrifying Ted and His Ultra-Conservative Vision for America
Andrew Levine
Smash Clintonism: Why Democrats, Not Republicans, are the Problem
Leonard Peltier
My 40 Years in Prison
William Blum
Is Bernie Sanders a “Socialist”?
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
We Can’t Afford These Billionaires
Enrique C. Ochoa
Super Bowl 50: American Inequality on Display
Jonathan Cook
The Liberal Hounding of Julian Assange: From Alex Gibney to The Guardian
George Wuerthner
How the Bundy Gang Won
Mike Whitney
Peace Talks “Paused” After Putin’s Triumph in Aleppo 
Ted Rall
Hillary Clinton: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gary Leupp
Is a “Socialist” Really Unelectable? The Potential Significance of the Sanders Campaign
Vijay Prashad
The Fault Line of Race in America
Eoin Higgins
Please Clap: the Jeb Bush Campaign Pre-Mortem
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Invisible Epidemic: Radiation and Rising Rates of Thyroid Cancer
Andre Vltchek
Europe is Built on Corpses and Plunder
Jack Smith
Obama Readies to Fight in Libya, Again
Robert Fantina
As Goes Iowa, So Goes the Nation?
Dean Baker
Market Turmoil, the Fed and the Presidential Election
John Grant
Israel Moves to Check Its Artists
John Wight
Who Was Cecil Rhodes?
David Macaray
Will There Ever Be Anyone Better Than Bernie Sanders?
Christopher Brauchli
Suffer Little Children: From Brazil to Flint
JP Sottile
Did Fox News Help the GOP Establishment Get Its Groove Back?
Binoy Kampmark
Legalizing Cruelties: the Australian High Court and Indefinite Offshore Detention
John Feffer
Wrestling With Iran
Rob Prince – Ibrahim Kazerooni
Syria Again
Louisa Willcox
Park Service Finally Stands Up for Grizzlies and Us
Farzana Versey
Of Beyoncé, Trudeau and Culture Predators
Pete Dolack
Fanaticism and Fantasy Drive Purported TPP ‘Benefits’
Murray Dobbin
Canada and the TPP
Steve Horn
Army of Lobbyists Push LNG Exports, Methane Hydrates, Coal in Senate Energy Bill
Colin Todhunter
“Lies, Lies and More Lies” – GMOs, Poisoned Agriculture and Toxic Rants
Franklin Lamb
ISIS Erasing Our Cultural Heritage in Syria
David Mihalyfy
#realacademicbios Deserve Real Reform
Graham Peebles
Unjust and Dysfunctional: Asylum in the UK
Yves Engler
On Unions and Class Struggle
Alfredo Lopez
The ‘Bern’ and the Internet
Missy Comley Beattie
Super Propaganda
Ed Rampell
Great Caesar’s Ghost!: A Specter Haunts Hollywood in the Coen’s Anti-Anti-Commie Goofball Comedy
Cesar Chelala
The Public Health Impact of Domestic Violence
Ron Jacobs
Cold Weather Comforts of a Certain Sort
Charles Komanoff
On the Passing of the Jefferson Airplane
Charles R. Larson
Can One Survive the Holocaust?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail