Labor Day was a few days ago, and like just about every other holiday I was at work. For the last four years I have basically missed Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, as well as the 4th of July and so on.
These are only minor concessions I’ve had to make in order to be a dealer. And while I would enjoy having Thanksgiving and Christmas off — mostly for the food and football, I’ll admit — it’s kind of understood that casinos are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and year-round. Someone’s gotta do the work. The labor must go on.
It’s ironic that I have to work on Labor Day, sure. But on Monday I was proud to, because it might be the most important holiday that I never knew as anything other than a day I didn’t have to go to school when I was younger.
Recently I watched a Jimmy Dore video on YouTube — about Labor Day — and realized for the first time that it meant more than all the good-feeling holidays I’ve always known and loved. The holiday has a story behind it, which you probably could have guessed and, like me, probably never put the time in to learn.
From the video:
Labor conditions were pretty hard, lots of new immigrants were coming to America. They were reasonably unskilled but often quite cheap labor, and they were exploited for such. So, the typical work day could be 12 hours. They often worked six days a week, sometimes seven days a week. Child labor was not allowed but it wasn’t regulated, and so kids as young as 6, 7, 8, 10, worked in the mills and the conditions were not terribly safe. There were terrible accidents that occured.
The first Labor Day was September, 1882. The founder probably was Matthew Maguire. He helped to organize a major march and demonstration to affirm labor’s rights. And 10,000 people marched. That was a Tuesday, that was the first Tuesday in September.
What triggered a national Labor Day in 1894 was a rather dramatic strike that took place. The pullman workers in Chicago went out on strike. The federal government intervened, because the pullman cars — basically there had been a boycott of them — stopped the American railway system from operating. So the federal troops were called out to crush the strike. People were killed, it was a terribly violent strike. It was not a happy day for labor.
Government, the politicians, wanted labor on their side. And so as a concession, they then passed legislation authorizing a Labor Day — the first Monday in September from then on.
If you are reading this then I am guessing you are not part of the top one percent of wage-earners. In assuming that, it means that you are the labor. Congratulations! You and I are on the same team.
I mentioned in my last article, the one about Colin Kaepernick, that the real fight is not amongst ourselves. The super wealthy pay top dollar to divide everyone up by race, religion, sexual orientation, et. al, so that we will continue to ignore the only true struggle. The only true struggle is between those at the very top, and everyone else.
Growing up, I think in my head I always considered myself as one of the elites, or bourgeoisie in Marxist contexts. This was obviously unfounded, since I attended nothing but public schools (paid by taxpayer dollars) and my parents vacillated between lower- and middle-middle class. I wouldn’t call them humble beginnings, because I had a good childhood and money was rarely an issue for my parents, but compared to those at the very top I am nothing. I am no one.
So I take pride, now, in being the opposite of what I imagined myself then. I like to be on the side of the workers, or labor. It’s more fun to be the underdog.
Since Ronald Reagan, and George Bush after him, and Bill Clinton after him, and George W. Bush after him, and Barack Obama after him, the labor class has been decimated. Reagan was the king of deregulation and weakening the rights of workers and unions, but it’s not like the Democrats did much better. Republicans will forever be jealous of how easy it was for Bill Clinton and Barack Obama to pass right-wing legislation. They could never dream, especially now that Trump is in office and people are awake, of actually accomplishing what they really want to accomplish.
That is to privatize Social Security, Medicaid… basically every federal program passed since FDR was president. If they really had their way, they would abolish the minimum wage and outsource every job to other countries. In a capitalist economy, the only god worth worshipping is growth. To obtain growth, it is always the labor that suffers.
This blog is in support of the workers, and of the labor class, and as such I think it’s high time that unions make a serious and meaningful comeback. When so many industries are dying and so many jobs are being lost to countries where corporations can pay poverty wages, there must be an appropriate reaction to correct the imbalance.
As a start, workers from Wal-Mart and Amazon should absolutely strike for a better deal. That alone represents something like 2.5 million workers in the United States, and it can’t be understated just how much their organizing would change the fabric of the country.
This only seems fair. Especially when the Walton family owns more wealth than the bottom 30% of Americans — roughly 100 million people — and when Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon, is the richest man on the planet. Call me radical, but I think they can afford for their workers to share in those profits.
Like most items, I fear most Americans have no idea that the rest of the world has it much, much better. The automobile company Nissan has 45 plants worldwide, and 42 of them are unionized. Can you guess which country the other three plants belong to? It’s us. Of course it’s us.
I work at a fairly cushy job for what it is. I work three or four days a week and earn a little more than double the national average. Yet, virtually every other department at the casino where I work — which employs more people than any other business in the Coachella Valley — starts at minimum or sub-minimum wage. (The land is sovereign, so the tribe does not have to abide by the minimum wage in California.) It also isn’t surprising that many of those low-wage earners are immigrants, and speak little to no english.
These people are and always have been the backbone of the American economy, all the way back to the very origin of Labor Day — and slavery before that. They are those that work the hardest and receive the least in return. In the clearest terms possible: these are the people I have in mind when I write articles like this, because they are the most vulnerable among us. And while I am absolutely in it for number one, and would be lying if I ever said otherwise, it isn’t difficult for me to put myself in their shoes. There need to be more voices for those that have no voice.
I think it’s the only righteous stance to take, but I don’t assume such a position because it’s righteous. I make this case because it’s better for everyone. When you put money in the pockets of the working class, they spend it. They pump it back into the economy, which creates more demand and thus more jobs. When the super wealthy get to keep more of the profits, they stash them away in tax havens like the Cayman Islands. The economy never sees that money. It serves no one.
This is also the reason I support an increase in the minimum wage, and Medicare for all, and other Federal programs like free college. When the people have more money to spend, everybody wins. And in the richest country in the world, there is enough cash to go around.
So, unions. Labor. Unions need to make a comeback because the ability to collectively bargain will increase wages, setting in motion the economic model I mentioned above. The labor can do this. It just takes information, people understanding that they hold the power over the giant corporations that abuse their work to get exceptionally rich.
Like I said, we’re the underdogs in this fight. But with some ability to organize and a little bit of passion to see it through, it’s a fight the labor can and should win.