It's time to celebrate the little people 09/03/2010 0 Comment(s) Yes, friends, it's that time of year again: young kids dread the start of their school year; college kids can't wait to get away from their parents and back on campus; with the summer heat still beating down, it's hard to remember how and why you wanted winter to end; the first Monday of September is a national holiday and--my all-time personal favorite--college football season is kicking off with the NFL season close on its heels. These are indeed the salad days. And the last I'm going to think about this extended Labor Day weekend is work.
However, I would be remiss to overlook the American working class: the people who work unselfishly to literally bring products and services to market; the people who actually produce something tangible, beyond a spreadsheet, each and every day; the people who built this country into a global economic superpower; and the people who now, ironically, find themselves as expendable fodder in the name of the bottom line.
Just to refresh our memories, Labor Day became a US federal holiday in 1894, after dozens of workers were gunned down by the US Military and Marshals during the Pullman Strike, a strike which began because of the poor treatment, conditions and pay created by their employer, George Pullman. Pullman owned Pullman Palace Car Company--which made sleeper cars for rail transportation--and he actually built Pullman City near Chicago to house his employees. Furthermore, they were required to live there, accept forced pay reductions and endure extended work hours without complaint. I also hear they had to pay for the use of his library in Pullman City. No wonder they went on strike!
After the violent suppression of a righteous strike, President Grover Cleveland feared further conflicts and pushed legislation through Congress to make Labor Day an official national holiday. This holiday was originally a street parade to showcase to the public "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations," followed by a festival for the workers and their families.
Boy, have times changed! Now, 116 years later, with persistent unemployment, chronic under-employment and too many people taking on more and more job responsibilities for less and less pay, the roots of Labor Day seem far more relevant to me . . . certainly juxtaposed against its current form of celebration: a paid day off, picnics, BBQs and pool parties.
Interestingly, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) just released its August Employment Situation Summary and the markets celebrated. "Stocks surged this week, adding about $1.2 trillion to the value of global equities and erasing the Dow Jones Industrial Average’s loss for 2010, and Treasuries slid as reports on manufacturing and home sales tempered speculation the economic rebound is in peril," reported Kelly Bit and Rita Nazareth on Bloomberg. Wow! We're certainly back from the brink! Let's take Monday off and burn chicken on the grill!!!
Yet, according to the BLS, "about 2.4 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force in August, little changed from a year earlier. . . . These individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey." Are we keeping track of how many people are not being counted because they fell off the radar screen each month in similar fashion?
Well, on June 4, 2010, Mary Engel wrote in MSN Money, "When the underemployed and the discouraged are added to the numbers, the unemployment rate rises to 16.6%." To put that into perspective, unemployment rose to 25% during The Great Depression . . . and 16.6% (and climbing?) is closer to 25% than it is 9.6%.
So on this Labor Day weekend, please remember the long-suffering laborers of our past, as well as our unemployed and underemployed citizens currently marginalized by the ultimate prize in life: profitability. Enjoy the hot dogs, football and festivities. Perhaps you might even want to invite the workers you laid off for a free meal. Whatever the case, before I sign off, I want to send a shout out to our nation's working class just trying to make ends meet, let alone live the American Dream. This Bud's for you!!!
Causes Tom Wagner Supports
AMFA Foundation, Affordable Medicines For Africa-South Africa, World Vision