Saturday, September 5, 2009

Happy Labor Day, Made Possible in Part by Capitalist Employers

A ridiculous little column by Cynthia Tucker at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Sept. 4, 2009) bears the headline "Remember the socialist origins of Labor Day!" Sure, okay, but also remember that many of our current economic ills can be directly attributed to socialist policies and the unions that support them. (Do I need to cite anything more than General Motors as proof? And don't even get me started on SEIU corruption and thuggery.) While unions once provided a needed voice for abused workers (that's undeniable), it cannot be denied that unions have overstepped their original purpose. The piggish greed of too many unions' leaders harms the union rank and file. (I acknowledge that this is not the case for all unions.) Too often today, union leadership works against the membership's best interests. The people know this. That's why, in 2008, union members accounted for only 12.4 percent of employed wage and salary workers in the United States. Those figures are even lower if you take government employees out of the picture. (In the 1950's, over 30 percent of the US workforce was unionized.) According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2005 and 2006 unions lost 326,000 members - 274,000 on private payrolls and 52,000 in government employment. As a result, the percent of the total workforce that belonged to unions fell from 12.5 in 2005 to 12.0 in 2006. On private payrolls it fell from 7.8 to 7.4 percent and in government employment it fell from 36.5 to 36.2 percent. (Source) Although union membership "grew" in 2008, it was only by a tiny amount, and due in part to the expansion of government payrolls at all levels. The Washington Post noted this fact in January, 2009: "According to the new federal information, 7.6 percent of private-sector employees belong to a union, while about 37 percent of government employees do." In other words, government employees (from your hometown to Washington) are unionized today at a rate nearly five times that of non-government employees. Government employees are unionized, in 2009, at a rate similar to the general public's unionization rates of 55 years ago. The federal government continues to grow, paying high union wages to one in three of its millions of employees. Too often, people like Cynthia Tucker look the other way, preferring instead to stare hypnotized and slack-jawed at the idealized history of labor in America, not seeing that some major unions are more burden than boon. Tucker starts her socialist propaganda piece with this: For those of you heading off to celebrate the three-day weekend — and for those of you just heading to the backyard barbecue grill –— here’s a little reminder of the origins of Labor Day and the labor movement that it represents. Tucker rightly reminds us that the hard working men and women of America organized for better working conditions. That's not to be dismissed, certainly, and we've all seen the bumper stickers that remind us that "Your weekend is brought to you by unions." Tucker wrote, "So, as you’re enjoying your barbecue....and your Labor Day sales, just remember that the labor movement brought you the eight-hour day, the five-day work week and institutionalized vacations. And remember the socialist whose actions helped bring about Labor Day!" "The socialist" that Tucker refers to is Eugene V. Debs, a socialist from Indiana who ran for president five times. Debs was also an influential labor and strike leader. Tucker reminds us about the ill-fated Pullman Strike, in which Debs played a major role over 100 years ago. In 1894, Pullman porters called a wildcat strike against the railroads to protest a pay cut — a strike which eventually involved about 250,000 workers in 27 states. (Among the leaders of the strike was Eugene V. Debs, an actual, card-carrying socialist.) Several workers were killed by soldiers, and Cleveland put reconciling with trades unions at the top of his agenda. He rushed through Congress a bill making Labor Day a national holiday. What Tucker, and so many others omit from the story (intentionally, I believe) are the reasons behind the Pullman pay cut. This is neatly explained by writer Michael Streich in a piece titled "The Pullman Strike of 1894: Anarchism and Labor Violence Confront Capitalism." An excerpt, with emphasis added: The Panic of 1893 was severe. Hundreds of banks failed and businesses closed. Unemployment soared even as some immigrants prepared to leave America and return to Europe. Businesses like the Pullman Palace Car Company were forced to lay off workers, cut production and wages, and sell existing inventories at a loss. George Pullman, viewed by Chicago society as enlightened, built a company town outside the city for his employees. Although he reduced wages by 25% percent and laid off half of his workforce, he refused any rent reductions and continued to overcharge his employees for city water. Times were tough in 1894, tougher even than today. 1893 saw a full-blown depression, not just a recession. Businesses large and small were forced to lay off employees or shut down. Although it might seem, in retrospect, that the Pullman Palace Car Company was heartless to reduce wages while "overcharging" employees for rent and services in its company town near Chicago, it should be kept in perspective. Pullman was on the verge of ruin. The nation was in a depression. Was the Pullman Company supposed to ignore reality and just continue to do business as though everything was fine? Would it have served the labor force better, somehow, for Pullman to just quit, lay off its entire work force - or lay off a quarter of it in order to continue to employ 75 percent? The American Railway Union voted to strike against Pullman, and soon railway switchmen in many states refused to switch any train that had pulled a Pullman car. According to the Robinson Library, "The General Managers Association, which represented the railroad industry, responded by firing all switchmen who refused to do their job. Before long most of the 24 rail lines in Chicago were paralyzed and the nation's rail traffic was at a virtual stand still, as ARU members across the country joined in sympathy with the Pullman workers." It should be remembered that we see similar overcharging today - without the violent reactions. For example, despite lower real wages and rising unemployment, the State of Illinois, the City of Chicago and Cook County continue to overcharge us by ever-rising taxes and fees. How is that any crueler than what Pullman did by maintaining its rent and service price levels? (Why is are the unions and liberals of today not balistic about that?) Consider the similarities and differences between the air traffic controllers of 1981 and the railroad workers of 1984. On August 5, 1981, President Ronald Reagan fired over 11,000 air traffic controllers for ignoring return-to-work orders. When 13,000 air traffic controllers walked off their jobs to strike, it nearly crippled air travel nationwide, with worldwide ripples. Reagan called their strike illegal and gave them 48 hours to return to work or they would be fired. "In 1955, Congress made such strikes punishable by fines or a one-year jail term — a law the Supreme Court upheld in 1971," wrote Andrew Glass for Politico. "To the chagrin of the strikers, the FAA’s contingency plans worked. Some 3,000 supervisors joined 2,000 nonstriking controllers and 900 military controllers in manning airport towers. Before long, about 80 percent of flights were operating normally. Air freight remained virtually unaffected." Unlike their 1894 counterparts, the air traffic controllers did not go on violent, drunken rampages across the country. The railroad workers were not federal employees, whereas the air traffic controllers were, but both had direct influence on the nation's safety, convenience and economic health. Like their railroad worker brethren of 1894, the air traffic controllers of 1981 were perfectly content to put their own interests ahead of the common good. The irony there, apparently missed by Tucker, is that good socialists always profess to have only the common good as their primary goal. Cynthia Tucker also omits the fact that without the capitalist employers there would not have been a workforce in the first place. Althouth Tucker mentions the violence used against the labor unions in the 1890's, she omits any mention of the violent tactics also used by union rank and file. Hundreds of people died and were injured in resulting actions. Hundreds of thousands were inconvenienced and had their safety threatened by the union mob actions. Tucker glosses over a pivotal moment in American history. Was there unjust brutality used against labor unions and their members in the 1890's? Yes, undeniably, but it pales in comparison to the violent acts committed by railroad union members. Was Eugene Debs dealt a raw deal? Probably, but that's open to debate. Would labor be employed if there were no employers? Nope. As you enjoy this Labor Day weekend, remember the employer who make employment of labor possible. When you go to that Labor Day sale, remember that it's your capitalist employer's paychecks that make it possible for you buy anything. As you eat that Labor Day picnic, recall that the food you are eating came to you by hard working, capitalist truckers, working for highly efficient capitalist-owned transportation companies, food production companies, and so on. You'll probably drive somewhere this weekend. Remember that it was a capitalist car company that designed and manufactured your vehicle, and that the workers at that car company would not have jobs there without capitalism. Oh sure, you may argue that the roads upon which you drive your car are the product of socialist programs, and you'd be correct. But you better acknowledge that the socialist programs that ordered up the roads were possible only by contracting the work to private companies owned by capitalists. This weekend was made possible, in no small part, by capitalism. Without it, we would either be subsistance farmers for slaves to a communist state. Happy Labor Day. RELATED: The Pullman Strike of 1894 - Public Opinion and Government Reaction to the Labor Movement - Cool Hats & Shirts for Cool Conservatives Leave a Comment... Chicago News Bench RSS Feed We're on Twitter...