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Beerworkers Archive


Post date: 09/05/2011 - 00:12

Celebrate Labour Day but Remember the Past.

If we remembered what it was like for workers before the labor movement, or had a clear vision of how many American workers would take it on the chin without a movement, we'd know how special it is.

As we gorge ourselves with burgers and beer on this Labor Day weekend, we'd do well to give a second thought to the movement that gave us the 40-hour week, an eight-hour day and, yes, weekends.

If we remembered what it was like for workers before the labor movement, or had a clear vision of how many American workers would take it on the chin without a movement, we'd know how special it is.

As we gorge ourselves with burgers and beer on this Labor Day weekend, we'd do well to give a second thought to the movement that gave us the 40-hour week, an eight-hour day and, yes, weekends.

There was no such thing as a weekend in 1882 when the first Labor Day was celebrated. Blue collar workers hit the clock Monday through Saturday. If they got Sunday off, they were lucky.

"Labor bought the weekend," said Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of teachers.

"Uni

ons fought for things that the entire society benefitted from, whether they were union members or not. Child-labor laws, disability payments. You don't have to be in a union to get those things."

But you wouldn't have them without a labor movement. We wouldn't have time-and-a-half for overtime or unemployment benefits or health insurance or many of the workplace safety rules in place today.

Without the persistent prodding of the labor movement, there would be no Social Security or Medicare. Organized labor has backed universal health care even though it's not in its self-interest to have government provide a benefit that made union membership more attractive.

You'd have to be a poor student of history to believe that American industrialists would have provided any of those benefits on their own.

If you want to know what big business sees as fair wages and acceptable working conditions, look at what they pay their overseas workers. Textile workers employed by American multinational corporations in Korea and China and South America work for a fraction of what workers are paid even in so-called "right-to-work" states.

But many of us are poor enough students of history to believe that we no longer need to organize in our own interests, or that when we do it harms the American economy. That's what politicians mean when they say that labor unions are a special interest. Respected political figures haul water for these multinationals and mischaracterize U.S. workers without fear of reprisal because most Americans have no idea what the labor movement means to them.