Published by
It's A Free Blog

Opinion: Republicans Should Use this Labor Day to Ponder their Assault on the American Worker

Email a Friend

While we'll enjoy a long weekend, final summer trips to the beach and ubiquitous barbecues this coming Monday, it won't be a "happy Labor Day" for the people for whom the holiday is named: Labor.

The holiday has drifted considerably from its roots (as have many holidays - Presidents Day wasn't originally designed to boost auto sales) and become more of a seasonal marker than a remembrance, but once upon a time Labor Day was an acknowledgement of the contributions by the organized workforce that was building our country. There was an era, if you could believe it, when powerful interests attacked workers, and when it was in the interests of politicians to reconcile the situation by offering some sign of respect and recognition to unions.

Twelve decades later and there are still powerful interests who attack working Americans on all fronts. This year has seen an unprecedented assault on the rights of workers to organize, starting in Wisconsin and spreading across the country. Unions have fought back and found allies in non-unionized Americans who recognize the right to organize as a fundamental American value; they have won early races in Wisconsin that have given their opponents pause --but in many states, the damage has been done - and ensured there will be less to celebrate this Labor Day in years past.

While there have always been forces that attack workers, the big change is how fewer are the politicians brave enough to stand with labor now than there were in 1894 when Congress authorized the holiday. Such legislation would never pass in Boehner's House. In fact, it's only a matter of time before today's Congress seeks to change Labor Day to Capital Day. In the end, they will only compromise and call it "Ronald Reagan Labor Day" if the White House cuts more jobs programs.

Given how difficult GOP politicians want to make it for workers to join unions, it's surprising how many of these same elected officials want to join labor themselves - specifically at Labor Day celebrations around the country. So these politicians received a surprise when local parade organizers in a Wisconsin town banned all Republicans from this year's parade.

Republicans explained they wanted to put aside differences and participate in "family-friendly fun." The non-partisan mayor is now threatening to pull municipal funding if Republicans are excluded.

And that's what Labor Day has transformed into: Not about the history of labor, respect for union or an opportunity to affirm our commitment to fundamental worker rights, just a chance for some family-friendly fun.

That family-friendly fun, by the way, is made possible by child labor laws, weekends and minimum wage - all progress that was championed by labor unions. But you won't hear about that on Monday, politicians will be too busy discussing how to get government out of the way of Big Business and regular Americans will be too preoccupied worrying about their economic future.

But if you can give a few minutes of your vacation day to remember the history of the occasion - a battle to improve the lives of the American worker that continues to today - there's a question you can and should ask every official and candidate: "If you want to march with us, why won't you stand with us?"

Let us know what they say when you come back from your long weekend, brought to you by American labor.

Justin Krebs is a political organizer and writer based in New York City. He is the founder of Living Liberally, a nationwide network of 250 local clubs that create social events around progressive politics, and author of "538 Ways to Live, Work and Play Like a Liberal."