August 31, 2002

Salute to Labor

Because the corporate agenda dominates the flow of information in America, you rarely hear even a whisper about the fact that Labor Day actually means something. It's not just a long weekend that marks the end of the summer. It's a tribute to the Labor Movement, "the people who brought you the weekend."

Labor built this country and still maintains it, though the idle rich get most of the attention. Much of that labor was slave labor. When slavery was outlawed, the barons of capitalism instituted what was called wage slavery, trapping people in jobs that barely sustained life while the owners continued to pile up wealth, spend it ostentatiously and build empires.

When working people realized collectively that the production of wealth was a partnership and that the owners could do nothing without them, the idea of organized labor was born. Many people were killed or brutalized for their parts in the creation of unions and the institution of collective bargaining, joining together of the labor force to force owners to cut them in on the wealth their labor was essential in producing.

The establishment of labor as a collective force created a balancing force in the developing capitalist system, and helped to make it sustainable. By creating a release valve for the pressure created by the untempered greed of the capitalist barons, labor actually extended the life of capitalism, made it viable.

In the late 20th century, labor gains have been successfully rolled back, largely through astute manipulation of popular culture by the corporate propaganda system. As the power and prestige of labor has diminished, wealth inequities have increased, poverty has increased, the middle class has diminished as a proportion of society. Now it has gone so far that the greed of the rich has reached self destructive extremes. The corruption is tearing the capitalist system itself apart. As Kevin Phillips makes clear in his book Wealth and Poverty, history shows that wealth inequities such as the U.S. is now exhibiting are not sustainable.

An essential feature of fascism was the destruction of the unions. It was part of the mechanism necessary to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a few major corporations. Unions in America have also been marginalized to a great extent. But there are signs of resurgence as corporate concentration of wealth becomes ever greater and reaches obscene levels.

A new poll conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the AFL-CIO showed a change of heart sweeping the country in regard to how unions and corporations are viewed "A solid 39 percent of those surveyed express negative views of large corporations, up from 25 percent last year," said the report on AFL-CIO News. Thatís the highest negative rating for corporations in the nine years pollsters have asked the public about their views. A whopping 58 percent have a negative view of CEOs."

It is time for Labor once again to come forth and save the greedy rich against themselves.

For more information on the American Federation of Labor, on unions and on how to join or organize, check out www.aflcio.org.

-- By David Cogswell

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