Putting Labor back in Labor Day Weekend

WPR: Marches & Pickets

W.J. Astore

Labor Day weekend is a reminder there’s no labor party in U.S. politics.  Instead, we have two pro-business parties: the Republicans and the Republicans-lite, otherwise known as the Democrats.  Both are coerced if not controlled by corporations through campaign finance “contributions” (bribes) and lobbyists (plus the promise of high-paying jobs should your local member of Congress lose an election or wish to transition to a much higher paying job as a lobbyist/influence peddler).  With money now defined as speech, thanks to the Supreme Court, there’s a lot of “speech” happening in Congress that has nothing to do with the concerns of workers.

Nevertheless, a myth exists within the mainstream media that “socialist” progressive politicians are coming this fall to take your money and to give it to the undeserving poor (and especially to “illegal” immigrants, who aren’t even citizens!).  First of all, the so-called Democratic Socialists are not advocating nationalization of industry; they’re basically New Deal Democrats in the tradition of FDR.  Just like Republicans, they believe in capitalism and the “free” market; they just want to sand down some of the rougher edges of exploitation.  Consider, for example, Bernie Sanders’s efforts to get a living wage for Disney employees.  Disney has finally promised to pay workers $15.00 an hour (phased in over the next few years), even as the corporation makes record profits and the CEO stands to earn hundreds of millions.  Second, you’ll notice the bulk of the Trumpian tax breaks aren’t going to the workers and middle class: it’s the richest Americans (and corporations) that benefit the most from these cuts.  Some of that money is supposed to “trickle down” to workers, but most of it doesn’t.  (Funding stock buy-backs, not pay raises, is especially popular among corporations.)

My father knew the score.  As a factory worker, he lived the reality of labor exploitation, and fought his own humble battle for decent wages.  I’ve shared this lesson before, but it bears repeating, especially since it’s Labor Day weekend.

My Dad’s Story

(My dad was attempting to get a dime pay raise at the local factory.  This was about the year 1950.)

It seems that Mike Calabrese on his own asked Harry Callahan [one of the owners] for a pay raise and he was refused. Mike decided to organize the men members and go down in a group. In our group he got ten men to approach Harry C. for a raise. But when it was time to “bell the cat” only three fellows went to see Harry. Well Mike said he couldn’t join the group because he had already tried to get a raise. I knew I was being used but I was entitled to a raise. Well Harry said to me, “What can I do for you men?” So I said to Harry: 1) Living costs were going up; 2) We deserved a raise. So Harry said, “How much?” and I said ten cents an hour would be a fair raise. So he said I’ll give you a nickel an hour raise and later you’ll get the other nickel. We agreed. So, I asked Harry will everyone get a raise and he replied, “Only the ones that I think deserve it.”

Well a month later I was drinking water at the bubbler and Harry saw me and said what a hard job they had to get the money to pay our raises. Well, Willie, Harry Callahan and his brother Sam and their two other Italian brother partners all died millionaires. No other truer saying than, “That the rich have no sympathy or use for the poor.”

My dad was no political radical.  He later became a firefighter and served for more than 30 years before retiring.  It’s precisely because my dad wasn’t a political firebrand that his words resonate so powerfully: “That the rich have no sympathy or use for the poor.”

It’s a good lesson to keep in mind.  Isn’t it high time we put Labor back in Labor Day weekend?

11 thoughts on “Putting Labor back in Labor Day Weekend

  1. Being both a laborer & later a boss, (founding my own business), I’ve always had a condescending wise crack for some employers calling them “bean counters”. No matter what you do or produce, it’s the PRODUCT that counts. Disgruntled workers don’t produce; it’s that simple. And a good product can easily pay for decent salaries and profits. I blame “bean counting” for the West’s lack of production & creativity today. GE & GM are 2 prime suspects of it, and both lost enormous market shares. The bosses are guilty, not labor.
    “Trickle Down” errr, ‘theory’, I never heard of before Reagan. And I doubt anyone else ever heard of this fraudulent phrase in economic books before him.


  2. “Trickle down” has a measure of honesty. They didn’t say “Gush” down or “stream” down or even “flow” down. No — just a trickle — or maybe a few drops.


    1. I agree. When I first heard the phrase “trickle down,” all I could think of is “you’re basically admitting to pissing on us, aren’t you?”


  3. Good luck with that “put labor back in Labor Day” thing. I mean, how much further back (meaning, “down”) can the Ruling Corporate Oligarchy put the working class? See:

    Corporations Are Waging All-Out Class WarBy Jim Hightower, Truthdig.com (September 2, 2018).

    America’s political history has been written in the fierce narrative of war. Not our country’s many military clashes with foreign nations, but our own unending war for democracy in the United States.

    Generation after generation of moneyed elites have persisted in trying to take wealth and power from the workaday majority and concentrate both in their own hands to establish a de facto American aristocracy. Every time, the people have rebelled in organized mass struggles against the monopolists and financial royalists, often literally battling for a little more economic fairness, social justice, and equal opportunity.

    And now, the time of a new democratic rebellion is upon us again, for We the People are suddenly in the grip of a brutish level of monopolistic power.

    Corporate concentration of markets, profits, workplace decision-making, political influence, and our nation’s total wealth is surpassing that of the infamous era of robber barons. Apple, which just became the first U.S. corporation to reach a stock value of $1 trillion, is now larger than Bank of America, Boeing, Disney, Ford, Volkswagen, and 20 other brand-name giants combined.

    In fact, just four tech superpowers raked in half of this year’s stock price gains by the 500 largest corporations. Indeed, the recent gold rush of corporate mergers has created mega-firms, shriveling competition in most industries — including airlines, banks, drug companies, food, hospitals, hotels, law firms, media, oil, etc.

    The result of fewer and bigger corporations is that those few attain overwhelming power over the rest of us. They are able to control workers’ pay, crush unions, jack up prices, squeeze out smaller businesses, dominate elections, weaken environmental projections, and generally become even fewer, bigger, and more powerful.
    They’re waging all out corporate class war on the American people and on our democratic ideals — and they’re winning.


    1. Or, stated in somewhat different language, with a special appreciation for the two greatest official euphemisms of all time: namely, the “Department of Defense” and “Selective Service.”

      Written twelve years ago in 2006, but just as relevant today, the unfolding saga of America reducing itself to passive intellectual incarceration, mesmerized by the moving colored images emanating from a glowing television screen; like the island aborigine Boobies cut off from the world’s cultural mainland; like prisoners kept underground who can only see shadows dancing on the walls of their cave and not the marionettes and puppeteers on the elevated stage behind them who produce and cast the shadows that they mistake for reality. In the accelerating economic insecurity enveloping so many Americans today, we can see the usual and historic:

      Boobie Top-Down Class Warfare
      (from Fernando Po, U.S.A., America’s post-literate retreat to Plato’s Cave)

      It happened back in Vietnam
      Some two score years ago
      When those within the upper class
      Declined to serve, and so
      They coined Selective Service to
      Select who wouldn’t go

      They called themselves the brightest and
      They called themselves the best
      And then they sent their countrymen
      Into a hornet’s nest
      But not themselves, of course, because
      They’d passed the privilege test

      These parents of a George and Dick
      Thought Communism bad
      But worried that some other lands
      Would find it not as sad
      As slaving for the rich ones whose
      Rank greed had made them mad

      So sympathizing with the rich
      No matter what they did
      The parents of a George and Dick
      Sent someone else’s kid
      To fight the dreaded communists
      No matter where they hid

      But not their George and Dick, of course,
      They couldn’t spare the time
      And Vietnam seemed far away
      Immersed in war and grime
      An atmosphere too turbulent
      For orchids in their prime

      These studly hot-house orchid types
      Worked hard to dodge the light
      Their parents helped them jump the line
      To keep them out of sight
      Arranging for deferments that
      Would keep them from the fight

      And so the years of war went by
      And communism won
      Which had exactly no effect
      On those who had the fun
      Of skipping out and turning tail
      To take off on the run

      Soon Vietnam recovered from
      The blasting it had got
      And communists turned businessmen
      To hatch a common plot
      With those who liked cheap labor
      And cared less why some had fought

      Still some remained embittered by
      The waste made of their lives
      And swore they’d never live again
      Like worker bees in hives
      Content to feed the rich who dined
      With sharpened forks and knives

      But Boobie schools taught only fraud
      And fiction to the young
      With fantasy and fables coined
      To see the truth unstrung
      Till history became a fog
      That never bit or stung

      On schedule, Boobie Dick and George
      Found Politician Town
      And learned that pandering for votes
      Could win some safe renown
      Affirmatively actioned up
      They never could fall down

      The millions seemed to flow their way
      And stuck to them like paste
      They spent what others raised for them
      With no thought for the waste
      Since someone else’s money had
      The sweetest sort of taste

      They made a deal between themselves
      To do a pantomime
      With Dick to do the thinking while
      George mouthed a lisping rhyme
      And so with the Supine Court’s help
      They grabbed for our last dime

      The Boobie George then tripped and crashed
      Into this truth sublime:
      That Boobies hated freedom and
      Considered it a crime
      Dick told him then what he should do:
      Just work them overtime!

      With not a moment left to think
      The Boobies wouldn’t know
      Where all their beads and shells had gone
      Or why they couldn’t show
      A single thing as evidence
      That they had labored so

      Once George and Dick gained access to
      The treasury’s largesse
      It hardly seems surprising that
      It soon contained much less
      A fact which few observers seemed
      To think of with distress

      But “stupid is as stupid does,”
      The stupid do and say
      Confronted by a wealthy thief
      They genuflect, then pay;
      With eyes and minds shut fast like that
      They make such tempting prey

      Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2006


  4. Labor Day is perhaps our most hollowed out and meaningless of all the the National Holidays we celebrate. Hightower has it right, per the above.

    Celebrating Labor Day as it should be, that is the documentation of Labor’s over 100 years of historical struggle against Capitalism is not something we can do. We cannot celebrate it for two reasons: One it would be admission of the class warfare the 1% vs us Proles, and Two we have no Labor Party here in the USA to represent us.
    As Leo W. Gerard is the International President of the United Steelworkers (USW) union has written:

    “American corporations weren’t always shareholder-centered. For about three decades after World War II, worker wages rose in tandem with productivity. This was a time during which corporations subscribed to the philosophy that they were obligated to serve their customers, communities, workers and shareholders.

    Over the past 30 years, however, US corporations embraced a new notion, which is that they had only one responsibility, to fill the pockets of shareholders.

    That is the same 30 years during which workers’ wages stagnated and CEO pay rose no matter how badly the executive performed. That is the same 30 years in which private equity firms bought manufacturers, loaded them up with debt, sold them off at massive profit then shrugged when a stumble threw the firm into bankruptcy, closed factories and killed good, family-supporting American jobs. That is the same 30 years when American corporations moved manufacturing from the United States to low-wage, high-pollution countries like Mexico and China.”

    Today, Labor Day, you can celebrate it by going to your local Big Box Store and take advantage of the Labor Day Sales, and purchase a product NOT Made in USA and sold to you by cashiers probably not making a Living Wage.


    1. A few years ago, the CEO of Porsche (not a Porsche family member at that time), gave The Economist editor heartburn when interviewed in an article on car manufacturing. The most profitable car builder in the world, enjoying a steady 2 year backlog, he outlined Porsche’s priorities: “Customers 1st, suppliers 2nd, labor forces 3rd, then stockholders”. He infuriated stockholders with his comments, then reminded them Porsche pays a higher dividend than any other car manufacturer. The Economist cynically titled it: “My way or the highway”….


  5. Rise like lions after slumber
    In unvanquishable number
    Shake your chains to earth like dew
    Which in sleep had fallen on you
    You are many, they are few

    — Percy Shelley, The Mask of Anarchy


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