LABOR DAY - A DAY OF MOURNING
When I was little more than a child, I remember the battles in Detroit over the salaries, safety and living conditions of the men and women working in the auto factories. The Detroit area was dominated by the auto companies. The saying was....as General Motors goes, so goes the world!
But actually, General Motors wasn't the focus of problems back then. The principle player in the long fight waged by workers was Ford. Henry Ford was a genius and a generous man. A lanky, good-looking fellow, he had turned his farm machinery into an affordable car and was well on his way to super-wealth, the head of a growing dynasty.
Henry Ford was like a benevolent father to his workers. He countered the Depression by giving his workers even more money, and treated them like family. But, in exchange for this, in his position as patriarch of this growing clan, he demanded autonomy. He monitored the lives of his workers in their homes and out. Safety at work was not as important to him as good behavior at home. He peeked into bedrooms. He fired those workers who were divorcing or having relationships outside their marriages, even though he himself indulged in these same pleasures. He demanded control over his minions at home and at work, and was strongly against unionizing.
All of this culminated in one of the bloodiest battles in United States history. Auto workers, who wanted a union, and company "scabs", hired to replace them, confronted each other all over the city. My brother, Hjalmar, found himself caught in the middle of the two groups as they fought on Belle Isle Bridge, barely escaping with his life. These battles were fierce, encompassing the use of tire irons and clubs. Acid was tossed in the face of one union leader, blinding him. Blood ran like water in the streets of Detroit, but at the end of it all, the unions became a part of the auto industry.
It is strange to me that Neocons hate unions so fiercely, when it is evident that what the Christian Right did was unionize. When a group of people organize to attain a goal, pay money for the privilege, and use every means within their reach to attain that goal....it is unionizing, no matter how you try to deny it.
When the unionization of the auto companies succeeded in bringing up the salaries of the working folks, when the auto plants were forced to consider the safety of their employees, and when the position of "plant jockey" became the envy of workers throughout the country, the condition of the working class of people began to improve all over America.
From that time onward, and helped along by the huge dependence upon auto workers during World War II, when the plants formerly used to manufacture cars turned out tanks and guns and Jeeps for use by the military, the status of the working class improved all over America. When the War ended, jobs were plentiful, rows of small homes were built to house the veterans and their families, and everyone settled down to this happy, prosperous existence.
What has happened to the auto companies is called "Globilization", but could be renamed "Ruination." Globilization is just fine, if the playing field is even. But no one could stem the march of the underpaid, slave labor available in other countries. This one fact has made Globilization the dream of CEO's and stockholders, with an eye on the profits, and the nightmare for America's Middle Class. And the screams of those caught in the grips of these nightmares have gone unheard.
Combined with that is the puzzling attitude of the Neocons, who glory in the humiliating downfall of the Middle Class, ranking the working man just one step higher than the Poor, whom they consider to be lazy slobs ripping money from the pockets of the populace. Even as they unionize in their Church Groups, they hate unions. While some of what they believe is true, that unions grew too large and were too corrupt, they would have to be evil indeed to match the corrupt behavior of the rightwing leaders of today.
As we celebrate Labor Day, with our picnics and our parades and our family get-togethers, few people consider the long struggle of the working people of the United States. There are no blue-jeaned, grease-stained auto workers portrayed in the parades. The politicians show up at parades and fairs, talk a bit about the working man and woman, and make their promises, but there are no blood-stained banners commemorating the strife between management and workers, no mention of the Safety Regulations imposed by Unions that have saved countless lives throughout the years, and no huge Semis rolling along, complete with Teamster drivers paying homage to the tedious hours on the road.
As we bid farewell to the prosperous Middle Class of America, and watch it sink into the pits of poverty, we welcome a new Era into our country...the Global Glut of a once prosperous nation, where wealth was shared, and decent salaries went into the pockets of America's families instead of providing yachts and Riviera vacations for a Favored Few. As some 12 to 20 million undocumented workers flood the country, anxious to work 12 hour days for a pittance of pay, nothing on their minds but scuttling the jobs of American workers, with greedy employers lauding the windfall of extra profits, the celebration of Labor Day has become a charade.
Labor Day in America should be a Day of Mourning, a day spent eulogizing the end of the American Dream, a day off for the $10 an hour worker with no health coverage, no hope and no future! The leaders of this country, in their silk-suits, hefty pensions and ballooned, self-administered salaries, should hang their heads in shame!
Ask yourself, will the American worker, having tasted success and prosperity, go back to the low pay, long hours, unsafe conditions and vacationless days of yesteryear? Will some future election bring leaders who will concentrate on the plight of the American worker instead of a Middle East War? Or will the future of America be a repeat of yesterday's strife, as the people of America once again demand that the Henry Fords of today's world get out of their living rooms and bedrooms and do what is best for the working class?