Monday, September 5, 2016

The New Meaning of Labor Day

Granted, the holiday set aside on the first Monday in September to honor American workers was always the weaker twin of the more radical May Day international celebrations. And it is also ironic, given that May Day itself was inspired by Chicago's Haymarket Massacre, in which agitators for the eight hour day, among other niceties. died for their progressive sins.

Look around at most major news sites today and you will find nary a word about working people and labor rights and the employment picture. That is because the true meaning of Labor Day in the eyes of the corporate media is that it marks the final stretch of the Presidential Horse-race.

Even Bernie Sanders, who walked the picket line with union workers in Iowa last year to mark the festivities, will be toeing the line today for Hillary Clinton. Of course, since his campaign speech will be delivered to the AFL-CIO's confab in New Hampshire, it will no doubt contain a lot of laborious rhetoric.

And let's be fair. Labor Day is the one day of the year that all politicians, even some Republicans, pay lip service to working stiffs. It's the homestretch. They've got a lot of work to do before they buckle down for the real job of rewarding the constituents and the corporations who gave them the most money.

None of today's New York Times op-eds honors the real workers of America, including the activists who achieved so much success in the Fight for Fifteen movement this year.

Paul Krugman instead complained that the media is treating Hillary Clinton unfairly, what with all the smears and innuendo they're directing toward her shady family foundation. Just because she met with some donors at the State Department who gave big bucks to her charity doesn't mean she's crooked. As far as Krugman is concerned, she's wearing the mantle of Saint Mother Teresa. Plus, she is not Trump, who Krugman says threatens to be George W. Bush to her Al Gore, if we malcontents aren't careful and just dutifully shut down the criticism. This poor multimillionaire candidate is getting Gored, for Gore's sake!
And the Clinton Foundation is, by all accounts, a big force for good in the world. For example, Charity Watch, an independent watchdog, gives it an “A” rating — better than the American Red Cross.
Now, any operation that raises and spends billions of dollars creates the potential for conflicts of interest. You could imagine the Clintons using the foundation as a slush fund to reward their friends, or, alternatively, Mrs. Clinton using her positions in public office to reward donors. So it was right and appropriate to investigate the foundation’s operations to see if there were any improper quid pro quos. As reporters like to say, the sheer size of the foundation “raises questions.”
But nobody seems willing to accept the answers to those questions, which are, very clearly, “no.”
Since Krugman is not a journalist, but a pundit, he is seemingly under no obligation to write fact-based columns. He is under no obligation to conduct actual research into the workings and money flows of the Clinton Foundation. Yet,
 So I would urge journalists to ask whether they are reporting facts or simply engaging in innuendo, and urge the public to read with a critical eye. If reports about a candidate talk about how something “raises questions,” creates “shadows,” or anything similar, be aware that these are all too often weasel words used to create the impression of wrongdoing out of thin air.
I couldn't resist. Here is my much-maligned published comment:
 You know who's really getting gored? The working class.

I guess the "conscience of a liberal" can't address the plight of the precariously employed, the poorly paid, and the chronically jobless on this Labor Day. The fortunes of an embattled politician are at stake!

And talk about innuendo. It seems like only yesterday that the pundit who now lectures the media on its ethics was smearing Bernie Sanders and his supporters as deluded, quixotic naifs who were selfishly demanding such impossible dreams as universal health care and a tuition-free public higher education.

Thanks to progressives, Clinton was forced to take a position on the minimum wage and against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the corporate war on workers which now appears moribund.

Yes, HRC is getting smeared on ridiculous things, like the "shadow" cast over her candidacy by Anthony Weiner. The mainstream press is not only inept, it appears mightily bored.

But questions about her foundation are legitimate. Yes, it does good around the world. Apologists like to point out there's never been evidence of pay-to-play. But as New York congressional candidate Zephyr Teachout, who literally wrote the book on "Corruption in America," explains, a quid pro quo isn't necessary. Wealthy donors and potentates pay for political access, which usually pays handsome dividends over time.

 All the Clintons should divest themselves. And then we must get the obscene money out of politics by overturning Citizens United.
Now, to be fair, not all the members of the ruling establishment have ignored the true meaning of Labor Day. President Obama himself used it as the topic of his weekly address, recorded before he was so ignobly forced to deplane in China from the cloaca of Air Force One, minus the red carpet.

Of course, he only talked about American workers, not the suicide risks in China who make the Apple products that enrich Steve Jobs's widow, who in turn hosted a $200,000-a-person fundraiser for Hillary Clinton to ensure that those Apple jobs will never come to our shores and pay workers anything close to a living wage.

Obama actually started out his chat quite liberally: 
For generations, every time the economy changed, hardworking Americans marched and organized and joined unions to demand not simply a bigger paycheck for themselves, but better conditions and more security for the folks working next to them, too.  Their efforts are why we can enjoy things like the 40-hour workweek, overtime pay, and a minimum wage.  Their efforts are why we can depend on health insurance, Social Security, Medicare, and retirement plans. 
All of that progress is stamped with the union label.  All of that progress was fueled with a simple belief:  that our economy works better when it works for everybody.
I think it's his folksy usage of the word "folks" that should warn us where he's going with all this historical happy-talk. He is taking us straight to Brave Neoliberal Land for the newer, improved meaning of Labor Day:
That’s the spirit that’s made the progress of these past seven and a half years possible.  We’ve rescued our economy from another depression, cut our unemployment rate in half, and unleashed the longest string total job growth on record.  And we’ve focused on making sure that the gains of a growing economy don’t just flow to a few at the top, but to everybody. 
Yes, people. The radical labor rights movement fought to have Wall Street bankers bailed out, for General Motors to be rescued in exchange for new workers getting hired at lower wages in a divide-and-conquer two-tiered assembly line setup, and for the wages all across the land to decline even as the wealth gap between rich and poor has grown to historic levels in the Age of Obama. He says he focused on the gains of the economy not all flowing to the top. He's right. As a matter of fact, only 91% of the gains since the 2008 crash have flowed to the top One Percent. Everybody else got the crumbs.  Hey, at least most people aren't actually starving. If you still have a refrigerator and a flat screen, how can you possibly call yourself poor?
It’s why we took action to help millions of workers finally collect the overtime pay they’ve earned.  It’s why I issued a call to raise the minimum wage, and when Congress ignored that call, 18 states and the District of Columbia, plus another 51 cities and counties went ahead and gave their workers a raise.  It’s why the very first bill I signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act; why we gave paid sick days to federal contractors; why we’ve fought for worker safety and the right to organize. 
And we’ve made good progress.  For a few years after the recession, the top one percent did capture almost all income gains.  But that share has been cut by almost half.  Last year, income for everybody else grew at the fastest pace since the 1990s.  And another 20 million Americans know the financial security of health insurance.
To be fair, Obama did finally extend overtime protections to millions of workers this year. But only after severe pressure and shaming from progressive activists. You see, it's an election year, and the Democrats have to do a few nice things to prove they care and deserve our votes. And this is precisely why the president casually squeezes the inconvenient truth about income disparity in this particular paragraph, rather than in the previous one. It's best practices to always save the bad news until after you've told the proles your little bit of good news. And did you notice how quickly he glossed over Obamacare? It is not doing too well. Plus, any financial security in the mix certainly does not belong to the health care "consumer." It belongs to insurance company executives and investors getting fabulously rich off mandated premiums and government welfare.

Obama can get away with his glossing over actual facts, because as William Dornhoff points out, most people have no idea of how extreme the wealth disparity truly is. We tend to give the benefit of the doubt to very rich people, whom we have been taught got that way by virtue of hard labor and "risk-taking." It may be shocking, but the lowest two quintiles of the American population possess only .03 percent of total United States wealth. 

Obama smoothly sails on nonetheless:
I’ll be the first to say we’ve got more work to do in the years ahead.  Now, I know we’re in the heat of a more raucous political season than usual.  But we can’t get so distracted by the latest bluster that we lose sight of the policies that will actually help working families get ahead.  Because the truth is, that’s what’s caused some of the frustration that’s roiling our politics right now – too many working folks still feel left behind by an economy that’s constantly changing.
Now he is in full neoliberal propaganda mode. The common refrain in a society where capitalism has replaced democracy is "we've got more work to do in the years ahead." In other words, don't count on your lives improving while you're still alive. And meanwhile, elect Hillary Clinton. She has policies on a website, and all Donald Trump has is bluster. But Obama feels your pain if you still "feel" left behind by an economy that is constantly changing, all by itself, because there is no alternative and you can't change the weather. Greed and global plunder are like Hurricane Hermine in that regard. Very mean. So batten down the hatches, and hope for the best against those "economic headwinds."

The slickness continues:
 So as a country, we’ve got some choices to make.  Do we want to be a country where the typical woman working full-time earns 79 cents for every dollar a man makes – or one where they earn equal pay for equal work?  Do we want a future where inequality rises as union membership keeps falling – or one where wages are rising for everybody and workers have a say in their prospects?  Are we a people who just talk about family values while remaining the only developed nation that doesn’t offer its workers paid maternity leave – or are we a people who actually value families, and make paid family leave an economic priority for working parents?
By merely asking rhetorical questions, Obama means to imply that he actually cares about the answers. He tries to separate himself from the very same neoliberal policies which himself he has both kept in place and crafted anew. By asking if we want paid maternity leave, he pre-empts the demand for living wages, universal health care, tuition-free and debt-free higher public education, a government sponsored jobs program, and affordable housing. Paid family leave is the least of a working parent's worries. Not having enough money in the bank for a car repair and not having enough food on the table are more pressing concerns. But Obama will not go there.
These are the kinds of choices in front of us.  And if we’re going to restore the sense that hard work is rewarded with a fair shot to get ahead, we’re going to have to follow the lead of all those who came before us.  That means standing up not just for ourselves, but for the father clocking into the plant, the sales clerk working long and unpredictable hours, or the mother riding the bus to work across town, even on Labor Day – folks who work as hard as we do.  And it means exercising our rights to speak up in the workplace, to join a union, and above all, to vote.
That was the big tell. Obama is not addressing working stiffs in this speech. He is addressing well-to-do liberals who should be concerned about working stiffs. Those folks work just as hard as "we" do - we managers, doctors, lawyers, lobbyists, real estate executives and the like. "We" must care about The Help riding on the bus to clean our homes as hard as "we" clean up in billable hours and writing smarmy op-eds for the mainstream media.

And don't ever forget: in Neoliberal World, the paramount duty of the citizen is not to join the picket line or to occupy a public space in protest of racism and class inequality, but to vote for the person who can best serve the interests of the wealthy. If working folks are very smart and very lucky, Hillary Clinton will beat Donald Trump, and a few meager drops of her golden beneficence might just even reach the lower levels. Someday. Maybe. If we vote our little hearts out.

Abject surrender to these artificially limited and mandated choices can be so seductive, but the only thing we really have to fear is fear-mongering platitudes.

We've got a lot of work to do.


Jay–Ottawa said...

All kinds of work out there to be worked. Like working on the inside to reform the Democratic Party.

The great left hope, Tim Canova, lost resoundingly in the primaries to Debbie Wasserman, 43% to 56%. Now will he consider working on the outside?

Likewise, Representative Alan Grayson got a twofer, maybe a threefer, of the unwelcome kind. He lost his House seat in running for the Senate and lost badly in the senatorial primaries to fellow congressman Patrick Murphy, 18% to 59%. As if that didn't hurt enough, his new wife ran in the primaries to take his former seat in the House, but she lost too. Given his social history, I'm not sure which third party will accept him if he decides to work outside.

The Democratic Party: where progressives from Vermont to Florida go to sell out or just fade away.

Meredith NYC said...

Karen....Innuendo is right.
But a few replies to your comment were positive. ScottW said....
@Karen: Great comment. You know it is a good comment when you have so many pro-Hillary people go after you.

I said.....Talk about false innuendo.....Re Sanders and tuition free college---Krugman never once mentioned that the US had free or low cost public colleges for decades---tax supported--and it was one of the main builders of the middle class. Hardly a policy from a "deluded, quixotic naif." It was centrist!

(I should add.....How many voters even know this? This is the US media denying or rewriting our own history—Soviet style.)

But I have seen a change in the comments to avid Clinton partisans, even from some old, informed, smart commenters who have lost any objectivity. But also maybe some are new, who didn’t comment much before--don’t know.

But they excuse all, blind to any Clinton drawback, so Krugman’s column would attract them. Fear of Trumpf is the big excuse. There’s a reason why most Krug columns simply bash the Gop rw crazies, and propose nothing for the Dems. So easy. For this we have a Nobel winner on the op ed page?

Meredith NYC said...

For Labor Day one of the PBS stations showed The American Experience –the Mine Wars. An eye opening documentary that included the character Mary Harris "Mother" Jones— “a notorious labor organizer known as "the miner's angel," and a self-proclaimed "hellraiser."

I only knew the magazine title, Mother Jones.

The miners battled with private police forces of the mine owners---armies on horseback to put down strikers. State, then federal troops were called out, supporting the owners. Not ‘til the 30s Depression were unions given rights.

I've seen quotes from both FDR and Gop Pres Ike in the ‘50s, saying that if they were workers they’d join unions. Times change. What US pres would say that today?

The PBS program intro: “ In the first two decades of the 20th century, coal miners and coal companies in West Virginia clashed in a series of brutal conflicts over labor conditions and unionization. Known collectively as the "Mine Wars," the struggle included strikes, assassinations, marches, and the largest civil insurrection in the United States since the Civil War.

Coal was the engine of American industrial progress at the beginning of the 20th century.”

Most people grow up in the US totally unaware of our past labor union history.

Neil said...

RE: "Of course, he only talked about American workers, not the suicide risks in China who make the Apple products that enrich Steve Jobs's widow, who in turn hosted a $200,000-a-person fundraiser for Hillary Clinton to ensure that those Apple jobs will never come to our shores and pay workers anything close to a living wage."

I never fully understood why some people stopped at nothing to accumulate vast wealth, when in the end it is a fool's errand: You can't take it with you.