Labor Day is a time for honoring the working people of this country. It is also a time to celebrate the accomplishments of the activists and organizers who fought for the 40-hour work week, occupational safety, minimum wage law, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and affordable housing.
These working people, and their unions, resisted the oligarchs of their day, fought for a more responsive democracy, and built the middle class.
Today we can – and we must – follow their example. It’s time to rebuild the crumbling middle class of our country and make certain that every working person in the United States of America has a chance at a decent life.
Against overwhelming odds, the men and women of the labor movement changed society for the better. If you’ve ever enjoyed a paid vacation, a sick day, or a pension, they are the people to thank. And if you don’t have those benefits on your job today, they are the people who can help you get them.
The economic reality is that while our economy today is much stronger than when President George W. Bush left office 7 years ago, the middle class is continuing its 40-year decline. Almost all new income and wealth is going to the people on top, while millions of Americans work longer hours for lower wages. In fact, wages actually fell for 90 percent of Americans between 2009 and 2012, even as they rose for the top 10 percent. While we have seen in recent years a proliferation of millionaires and billionaires, 51 percent of African American youth are now unemployed or underemployed, and we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on earth.
As a result of an explosion of technology, productivity has risen in this country, but working people are not sharing in the wealth. For three decades after the end of World War II, productivity and wages grew together. Business profits rose, and the workers who made those profits possible did well along with their bosses. That’s not happening today. Productivity has continued to soar, but workers have been cut out of the profits.
The time is long overdue for us to create an economy which works for the middle class and working families of this country, and not just the one percent. It is time for us to have a government which represents all Americans, not just wealthy campaign contributors.
At a time of massive income and wealth inequality, we need a tax system which demands that the wealthy and large corporations start paying their fair share of taxes.
With real unemployment at over 10 percent and youth unemployment off the charts, we need a massive federal jobs program to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and create millions of decent paying jobs.
With many of our people working at starvation wages, we need to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next few years, and implement pay equity for women workers.
When hundreds of thousands of bright and qualified young people are unable to afford a higher education, we need to make public colleges and universities tuition free and lower student debt. And we can do that by a tax on Wall Street speculation.
At a time when 35 million Americans lack any health insurance and many more are under-insures, we need to move toward a single-payer health insurance program which guarantees health care to all as a right.
We also need to join other wealthy counties by guaranteeing that all families have paid medical and family leave and paid sick time and vacation time.
Instead of cutting Social Security or disability programs, as most Republicans want, we need to expand Social Security benefits so that every senior citizen in this country can enjoy their retirement years in dignity.
When many businesses are making it harder and harder for workers to enjoy their constitutional right to form a trade union, we need legislation which makes it possible for those workers who want to join a union to be able to do so. We need to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.
In the wealthiest country in the history of the world we CAN accomplish all these goals, but we can’t do it without a political revolution. We can’t do it unless millions of Americans stand up and fight back to reclaim our country from the hands of a billionaire class whose greed is destroying our nation.
Here’s the good news: we faced challenges like these before in our history, and we won. We won when working people across this country came together – in the workplace, in peaceful demonstrations, and at the ballot box – and said “No more.” That victory is part of what we celebrate on Labor Day.
By all means, enjoy the holiday weekend. But this Labor Day let’s also honor the men and women who have fought for the rights of working people in this country ever since it was founded – by pledging to carry on with the work they’ve started.
This story was originally published on Truthdig.