Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor Day in a Jobless Decade

If any man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor, he is a liar. If any man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor, he is a fool.”
― Abraham Lincoln

Fast forward a century and a half, and American leaders, foolish as ever, have taken their fear of people to unprecedented levels by spitting in labor's face and drum-beating for yet another war. In Abe's day, the tycoons only had the Pinkerton Agency to crush the oppressed. Now we have the N.S.A,, the C.I.A, the D.E.A., the T.S.A., the FISA Court, Homeland Security fusion centers, militarized urban police forces and probably even more initialized agencies we never heard of, lurking undetected deep within the bowels of the national surveillance state.

Today, more than ever, it is easy for politicians to demonize poor people in general and poor working people in particular. The Party of Lincoln openly telegraphs its contempt for labor, and the Democrats, in their craven allegiance to Wall Street, are coming in a close second by dint of their faint words and deafening inaction.

As I noted in my response to a rather tepid Paul Krugman column in honor of Labor Day (a variation on his Republican misanthropy theme),

Unfortunately, the anti-labor philosophy of the GOP doesn't mean the Democrats are pro-labor. Not by a long shot. Last spring, when Senator Amy Klobuchar bucked the trend and held a hearing on the crisis of chronic unemployment, only five of her colleagues bothered to show up. As Gore Vidal observed, there is only one political party in this country, and it has two right wings.

But at long last, the workers of America are beginning to unite, taking to the streets and the picket lines. Wildcat-striking fast food workers are demanding $15 an hour. Chicago teachers and students are striking back against the closure of scores of public schools and firings of thousands of teachers to make room for the for-profit charters and low paid non-unionized staff.

The miserly $9/hour minimum wage proposed by the president is too little, too late, and too insulting. If he chose to, he could sign an executive order today, raising the wages of millions of underpaid employees of federal contractors. But his big kiss to the workers this Labor Day was a mild thaw of his wage freeze of those directly employed by the federal government. I guess his whopping 1% hike is meant take away the pain of furloughed workers victimized by the utterly gratuitous, bipartisan Sequester.

So we can't rely on our politicians, who are bought and paid for by their tax-averse cronies and donors. The labor movement has always derived its strength from direct action rather than at the ballot box.

The pols have their war, and we have ours.

And since today is the day we are supposed to honor and glorify the working people of America, I am going to cut this post short, forget about doing my due diligence by adding yet another slew of depressing links and stats, and honor myself by taking the rest of the day off from reading and writing about war, strife, misery and want.

So, here's to the hard-working, non-rentier people out there, slogging along, getting a paycheck, an unemployment check, a pension check, or no check at all.

Meanwhile, Forbes -- probably sensitive about its constant glorification of the filthy rich plutocracy and the Forbes 400 in its glossy pages -- last year published a list of ten of the best working stiff flics of all time. See if any of your favorites are included. Personally, I think I will savor The Grapes of Wrath one more time, for old times' sake. What better way to spend my day off from contemporary misery, strife and want than to watch one of the great artistic classics of the genre. 


Pearl said...

On Labor day it saddens me to remember all the immigrants of my father's generation who made it to the U.S., mostly Jews from Russia, settled in New York and fought to organize and support unions, carry on meaningful conversations about politics and the future and fought for all the decent things they never had. They helped elect a President four times who truly represented the people that elected him. Where has it all gone to? The progeny of that generation who were supported in getting an education, have risen in the ranks and too many have joined the generations of money makers, living well in gated communities.

There are those of us who have carried on those dreams but not enough of us obviously. Karen I thank you for remembering what America should be all about and reminding others of that fact. This country has thrown away the work and dreams of so many people coming from countries of oppression and now to find it blown away is heartbreaking.

I can only think of those valiant people of the past who marched and fought for decency for working men and women which has been destroyed. I hope that spirit is still alive and beginning to stir. It is long past time.

Fred Drumlevitch said...

On the subject of Labor Day:

And though I haven't commented here in (I think) nearly a week, I have kept up with Karen's posts and the comments, and I must say that everyone has been in fine form on some very important matters. On this Labor Day, I'll echo @Pearl's comment. I want to express many thanks to Karen and the commenters at Sardonicky for their labors throughout the year pulling back the curtain of illusion draped by the powers-that-be over our politics and economy. Your cutting critiques directed at the rivers of shit emanating from the powerful corporations, the military-security apparatus, and their lackey politicians, have been necessary, welcome, inspiring. I think that as a result of such critiques here and elsewhere, increasing numbers of Americans are moving beyond the state of undefined malaise, to beginning to understand how our political "representatives", our "institutions", and our largely-unregulated capitalist economy have failed both the people and the nation --- and that fundamental structural change that actually serves the people must take place to return to the promise that this nation once held for so many.

4Runner said...

Let's drink to the hard-working people
Let's drink to the lowly of birth
Raise your glass to the good and the evil
Let's drink to the salt of the earth.

Say a prayer for the common foot-soldier
Spare a thought for his back-breaking work
Spare a part for his wife and his children
Who burn the fires and still till the earth.

(Opening stanzas of "Salt of the Earth" by the Rolling Stones)

Karen Garcia said...

Thank you Pearl, Fred and 4Runner.

Regrettably, the outrages, subterfuges and propaganda attacks are coming almost too fast to keep up with them all. Fighting back may seem futile, but giving up and shutting up are exactly what the PTB would have us do. Ergo, tempting as it may be, apathy is not an option, at least not for me. Not yet.

Tara Crowley said...

The Militant by Langston Hughes

Let all who will
Eat quietly the bread of shame.
I cannot,
Without complaining loud and long.
Tasting its bitterness in my throat,
And feeling to my very soul
It's wrong.
For honest work
You proffer me poor pay,
for honest dreams
Your spit is in my face,
And so my fist is clenched
To strike your face.

James F Traynor said...

I rode back and forth as a strap hanger in NY for a few years after I got out of the service, often doing night shifts. And days, during those hectic lunch breaks, ordering a quick sandwich and watching the short order cooks and waitresses hustle. Met all kinds. And yeah, Karen, the Joads were one of my favorite families. And now I watch the immigrant laborers work in the hot Florida sun for a few bucks to send home and listen as a masseuse worries about her hands. All of them, and more, two weeks away from disaster. Most with little or no med. I think that's why I hated Romney more than the others, the Democrats, who are not much better.

worker bee said...

In March 2013 Elisabeth Warren said the minimum wage would be $22 per hour if it kept up with productivity. Sen. Warren on YouTube here

What happened to the difference, from the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour? The American worker donated the other $14.75 to the rich, the one-percent. Unfortunately not enough people will fight for their own wages. That is a problem too, in addition to everything already noted.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) made a case for increasing the minimum wage last week during a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing, in which she cited a study that suggested the federal minimum wage would have stood at nearly $22 an hour today if it had kept up with increased rates in worker productivity.

"If we started in 1960 and we said that as productivity goes up, that is as workers are producing more, then the minimum wage is going to go up the same. And if that were the case then the minimum wage today would be about $22 an hour," she said, speaking to Dr. Arindrajit Dube, a University of Massachusetts Amherst professor who has studied the economic impacts of minimum wage. "So my question is Mr. Dube, with a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, what happened to the other $14.75? It sure didn't go to the worker."

Dube went on to note that if minimum wage incomes had grown over that period at the same pace as it had for the top 1 percent of income earners, the minimum wage would actually be closer to $33 an hour than the current $7.25....

Will said...

Here's the latest from Chris Hedges. Last chance to stop the NDAA. Don't hold your breath.

annenigma said...

Karen has an excellent comment in the New York Times today (Tuesday) to the editorial called 'Debating the Case for Force'.

It's rated #1. I'd post it here but she might be working on another post where she includes it.

Will said...

"...and thus finalize the manufactured consent of the governed."

My favorite line in a comment overflowing with great lines. Thanks for the heads-up, Anne. :)

Noodge said...

We shouldn't forget John Lennon...

As soon as you're born they make you feel small
By giving you no time instead of it all
Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all
A working class hero is something to be

They hurt you at home and they hit you at school
They hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool
Till you're so fucking crazy you can't follow their rules
A working class hero is something to be

When they've tortured and scared you for twenty-odd years
Then they expect you to pick a career
When you can't really function you're so full of fear
A working class hero is something to be

Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV
And you think you're so clever and classless and free
But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see
A working class hero is something to be

There's room at the top they're telling you still
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill
If you want to be like the folks on the hill

A working class hero is something to be
If you want to be a hero well just follow me

Can't help bu believe this world would be a different, better place were he still around.

Zee said...

@worker bee--

Thanks for the links to the articles by Elizabeth Warren.

I have been wondering for quite some time now exactly what should constitute a "living wage," and the information that you and Warren provided helps me along in that project.