Friday, August 31, 2007

Working for a Living

If you enjoy your Labor Day weekend, you can thank immigrant workers who came to the United States over a hundred years ago, according to the U.S. Information Agency, the branch of the government whose job it is to tell this country’s story to the rest of the world.

“Many immigrants settled in New York City in the nineteenth century,” reports the USIA from an American Embassy overseas. “They found that living conditions were not as wonderful as they had dreamed. Often there were six families crowded into a house made for one family.” Also, “Immigrant men, women, and children worked in factories for ten to twelve hours a day, stopping only for a short time to eat. They came to work even if they were tired or sick because if they didn’t, they might be fired.”

On Sept. 5, 1882, a Labor Day parade of 20,000 workers marched up New York City’s Broadway carrying banners that said, “Labor Creates All Wealth” and advocating the eight-hour work day. Congress voted Labor Day a September federal holiday in 1894. Most other countries celebrate May 1 to honor workers, but in the United States this date too closely corresponded to the anniversary of the Chicago Haymarket Riots in 1886, when Chicgo Police, Pinkerton Agents working corporate security, strikers, and bomb-throwing anarchists clashed, making martyrs but not friends.

Today, Labor Day in the United States is mostly welcomed as the end of summer, maybe the last big picnic, barbeque and/or swimming party. It also signals the start of football season, though the baseball World Series is still weeks away. The Southern 500 Stock Car Race used to be held on Labor Day in Darlington, S.C., but has migrated, like the Joads, to California. Jerry Lewis raises money on his telethon for kids who suffer from Muscular Dystrophy. All in all, there is a lot to think about other than why we’re getting a long weekend.

Labor unions and their issues are not as popular as they once were. Some of this is ironically the measure of past success. They won the fight for an eight-hour day and a 40-hour week, with time and a half for overtime. Labor unions won sick pay and holiday pay, as well as medical benefits and retirement plans for their members.

At a certain point, union workers were doing so well, nice houses, two cars, a boat, color television, 401K’s, that they mistook themselves for Republicans and elected Ronald Reagan President of the United States. Reagan, a former union head for his own craft, movie acting and television advertising pitchman, thanked them by firing the Air Traffic Controllers who went on strike in 1981.

At that time, there were still GM and Ford auto plants in Atlanta, Ga. That was before Japanese and Korean auto manufacturers opened plants in Alabama and before the Wal-Mart/China axis.

Copyright 2007 by William C. Cotter


Tina said...

The latest news is that "household income" is up, but "individual earnings" are down. So what does it mean? It means that more mothers of young children are having to go to work to contribute to the family income---that it takes two working just to get by.

Paw Paw Bill said...

Yes, and I would say, don't even get me started, except that I think I am probably going to write another posting about working moms and absent dads.


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