On Monday, September 3, Americans will celebrate Labor Day.
This annual national holiday was created more than 100 years ago as a tribute
to the American worker. To most Americans these days, however, Labor Day seems
to be more about end-of-summer picnics, beach excursions, and an extra day off
The average American isn't the only one who has lost sight
of the contributions and sacrifices of the workers of this nation. Over the
past couple of decades, American corporations have been ignoring the needs of
the workers in order to focus instead on stuffing the bottomless pockets of the
CEOs. And the U.S. government has been giving them all the help and support
It wasn't always this way.
Take Henry Ford, for example. Ford introduced the concept of
a 40-hour work week for his employees, and paid them relatively high wages for
that era. Since Ford paid his employees well, they could afford to buy their
own Ford cards. It was a win-win situation.
Ford wasn't without his faults, however. Ford disapproved of
labor unions. Accordingly, he was the last Detroit automaker to recognize the
United Auto Workers union, finally caving in to pressure from his wife and from
other auto manufacturers.
That was before the right to form labor unions was
guaranteed by Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But
still today there are a lot of corporate giants who either are not aware of
that guarantee or just don't care. Also guaranteed under Article 23, and
equally ignored by corporate America today, are the right to just and favorable
conditions of work, the right to equal pay for equal work, and the right to
just and favorable remuneration that will ensure "an existence worthy of
First let's take a look at the union issue today. Unions
protect workers from corporate tyranny. Unionization gives workers the power to
bargain for fair wages, decent benefits, and safe working conditions. But
corporations are engaging in extreme union busting, illegally threatening and
intimidating workers who want to form or join a union. According to the
non-profit organization Workplace Fairness, 25 percent of employers have
illegally fired at least one worker for union activity during organizing
campaigns, 75 percent of employers hire consultants to help them fight union
organizing, and 92 percent of employers force employees to attend mandatory
anti-union presentations. As a result, union membership in the U.S. has
declined significantly in recent years, from a high of over 35 percent at the
end of World War II to approximately 13 percent today. By keeping out the
unions, corporations can retain only non-union employees who are so desperate
for work that they'll accept poverty-level wages, unfavorable working
conditions, and unfair treatment.
But the decline of unions in this country is only one of the
problems facing American workers today. From manufacturing to computer
engineering, U.S. jobs are being outsourced to India and China, where employees
are willing to work longer hours for a fraction of what their American
counterparts would be paid.
In short, America is being sold to the lowest bidders, and
those whose jobs remain in this country are at the mercy of their employers.
And it seems that the U.S. government exists to serve the
corporations, not the people.
It's a corporatocracy gone wild.
As a result, the gap between the rich and the poor in this
country grows ever wider. The middle class is shrinking, and the American dream
has become a pipe dream.
If these things are allowed to continue over time, what will
we be left with? A serfdom?
And what will Labor Day mean 50 years from now?
Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and
activist. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the
Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views on
politics, human rights, and social justice issues have appeared in numerous
online forums and in newspapers and magazines worldwide. Note that the ideas
expressed here are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect the
opinions of Amnesty International or any other organization with which she may
be associated. E-mail: email@example.com.