Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Happy Labor Day

by Norman Markowitz

It's Labor Day in America and Labor Day is what we make it.  Historically, labor day was fought for by Peter Maguire, a socialist and founder of the Carpenter's Union in the last decades of the 19th century.  Eventually, Maguire was defeated in his union by conservative "business unionists" who rejected both socialism and the building of a labor party for what they called "bread and butter" or "pure and simple" trade unionism, that is, mnaking the union run like a business in the existing capitalist system, negotiate with capitalists as fellow businessmen, and gain the highest wages possible for their members(clients might be a better term) by closing off the labor market---which with unions like the carpenters meant discriminating against minorites and women as members and also not really trying to organize the unskilled, mass production workers, because that was both very difficult and would upset the capitalists, since dividing the working class was the capitalism most important tactic.
But they failed to stop the establishment of labor day, or the later CIO, or the later Civil Rights movement, all of which sought to unite the working class.
Some of these conservative business unionists saw Labor Day as an alternative or in their minds an antidote to May Day, which began globally after 1890 and used as its point of reference the U.S. May 1, 1886 demonstrations for the Eight Hour Day which sparked the Haymarket police riot in Chicago and the eventual execution of Albert Parsons and other leaders of the demonstration who became martyrs to the U.S. and international labor movements. 
But May Day and Labor Day should be seen as not only complementary, but similar in what they stand forr--two days of contemplation and commitment to the achieve the unity and victory of the working class before and after what with global warming is becoming in most places a long hot summer.
What should we be contemplating for this Labor Day and afterwards?   Perhaps our readers have ideas.  Let me make a short list.
1. How to act now to defeat the Republicans in the 2010 elections, since their victory will present a setback for labor to say the least
2. How to turn the administration's stimulus/bailout into a peoples stimulus that will directly create agencies like the WPA to provide jobs at union wages for workers
3. How to revive employee free choice and have a new Congress enact legislation which will end the 67 year wall against labor organizing created by Taft-Hartley "right to work" laws
4.  How to use the new health care legislation as a springboard to real public national health legislation on the European and Canadian models.
5. How to effectively address the undocumented worker issue
Happy May Day

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