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Thomas Davis

Thomas Davis
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Writer, instructor and policy consultant
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I'm a public affairs writer and policy consultant.

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Salon.com
Editor’s Pick
SEPTEMBER 3, 2011 10:37AM

Labor Gains

Rate: 2 Flag

I’m guessing that some of the more traditionally fashion-conscious among us
will be flagging this as the last fling in summer whites this Labor Day weekend. As Time Magazine notes, “The post–Labor Day moratorium on white clothing and accessories has long ranked among etiquette hard-liners’ most sacred rules.” Despite this Great White Surrender, there’s reason for hope.

Others might simply welcome a short respite from the grind of daily labor this weekend. Sadly, still others might spend their time during the next couple of days wishing they had a clock to stamp their time card Tuesday morning when the new unofficial fall season returns in full swing.

Regardless of which camp Americans might fall into, this weekend is a significant one not only because of its namesake but also its origin. I say “Americans” because the rest of the world formally recognizes labor on May 1. The first Labor Day in America was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, thanks to the Central Labor Union. Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894. It was then that a number of workers died at the hands of the U.S. military and U.S. Marshals during the Pullman Strike, the most famous and violent labor conflict in a period of severe economic depression and related social unrest. The eventual outcome was a reconciliation between President Grover Cleveland and labor.

It’s been a tumultuous year for labor. The year 2011 has brought an escalated assault on labor in the making for the last decade. Perhaps the most salient example this year would be the actions of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to curb collective bargaining rights of public workers. The response that followed, however, was an overwhelming and sustained rally in Madison and around the country as state capital after capital attempted a pre-Pullman pull back. A recent summer season of recall elections that have already voted out some of those who supported Walkers’ anti-union position is proof positive of pushback against the pullback.

In Maine, Governor LePage, ordered the removal of a mural from the main lobby of the state’s Department of Labor because “Union thugs are history’ greatest monsters”. Elsewhere, Minnesota Congresswoman and Presidential contender Michele Bachmann has called for the elimination of the minimum wage. Examples abound.

As Noam Chomsky observes, “A decade ago, a useful word was coined in honor of May Day by radical Italian labor activists: ‘precarity.’ It referred at first to the increasingly precarious existence of working people ‘at the margins’ – women, youth, migrants. Then it expanded to apply to the growing ‘precariat’ of the core labor force, the ‘precarious proletariat’ suffering from the programs of deunionization, flexibilization and deregulation that are part of the assault on labor throughout the world.”

As we kick back this weekend, let’s be a bit more sanguine about the future of labor than our friend Professor Chomsky despite the labor pains of 2011. A visible and burgeoning rash of interstate recall elections and big rallies is reason alone to anticipate future labor gains. Our hard fought three day reprieve is tangible proof that organized labor can bring humanitarian results for those disposed to wearing white as well as blue.

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I'd like to be confident but instead I feel icy fingers in my guts. Do you see good signs, or hear anyone with good ideas to reverse these patterns?
Yes, Kirk. I think the big rallies and recall elections are all positive.
Thanks for this first-rate post, Thomas! Glad it got an EP; a bit disheartened to see how few comments it's garnered so far. Maybe after people are through with however they observe today's holiday, and before Obama gives his already-so-much-argued-about (before delivered) speech next Thursday, a few more OS-ers will give this post more attention. I, for one, would sure love to see some more discussions with you about labor ... in its many meanings.
R
I went to the Labor Day fest at the South Central Federation of Labor Temple in Madison yesterday. It was the largest crowd ever. At one point a line of people got on stage with signs representing their unions. About fifty people spoke for their unions.

I think the pressure Obama is under will force him to abandon plans for a second term. He is weak, unable to fight, and his values clearly lie with the wealthy. Every time I see him speak to the people who got him elected my stomach turns. You can tell he is insincere by the way he fakes folksiness. In Detroit yesterday the audience was largely "African American," so he went into his fake "black" dialect, rounding off words, using the term "folks," even doing "white" boy imitations of "black" speech cadences and emphases.

If we want to return to a labor-focused economy we will have to say something about the changes we want. The first principle would be a full employment economy. Everyone willing to work would have a job. No excuses, alibis or euphemisms. The way to achieve this would be to transfer to a lower tech productive system. If what we have now is creating climate change, then it is pretty much a no-brainer to move to a less energy intensive system.

The other top priority would be to protect the environment, which is achievable with lower tech, and also with long imprisonment for polluters like BP, Exxon, Monsanto, Dow, DuPont and the auto companies.

I don't have a problem with being optimistic about the future. We have no choice but to make these changes.
Thank you podunkmarte and John. Your comments are much appreciated.
This next cycle is in full swing, and I note that the Democratic Party continues to be "stuck" in their odd netherworld. Even the Party faithful cannot explain to one another exactly "what" they stand for in a single paragraph. Same ol' Same 'ol.

Well, I know exactly what James Hoffa stands for. And now the entire Nation knows it too. He stands "FOR" the forgotten, pushed aside American workers.

And he stands "AGAINST" those whose agenda is bought and paid for by the corporatists in league with the multi-generational wealthy who seek to complete their Coup d'Etat of the United States.

James Hoffa is making his point to the tea baggers, the Reepers and all who inhabit that mindset that "We, the Workers of America are here".

"We are drawing a line in the sand, and we will stand our ground".

"If you push us, we will push back harder. By any means necessary".
Thanks Cactus Bill. Your comments are much appreciated.
Thanks Cactus Bill. Your comments are much appreciated.
"You can tell he is insincere by the way he fakes folksiness. In Detroit yesterday the audience was largely "African American," so he went into his fake "black" dialect, rounding off words, using the term "folks," even doing "white" boy imitations of "black" speech cadences and emphases. "

You've got that right!