A DAY OF SALUTE TO THE AMERICAN WORKING STIFF
Ah, Labor Day, the last summer holiday. A whole-heartedly American day. The last day for white pants. A long weekend with a paid day off of work. Time spent with family and friends. Maybe even a little barbecue and a cold one. Does anyone remember the neighborhood block party? Kids playing in the street, dads huddled around something on fire. Mothers, gathered in a circle of lawn chairs talking about everything under the sun, occasionally taking turns to fix a child’s problem and then dismiss them off into the fray of hide-n-seek games the lasted til dark. Someone’s radio playing loudly out of an open window. A summer love’s inevitable conclusion. A new school year, looming. Well, that’s the way it used to be. My childhood reality from a time that seems like a dream.
This year, labor forces across the country will go to their low paying jobs on Monday as if a holiday to honor our nation’s working class didn’t exist. A statement from the Department of Labor says, Labor Day,“constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.- It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.”
Which begs the question, how has our government honored our work force? Right-to-Work laws (an exploited loophole of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947) keep wages down across the country while simultaneously weakening the labor force’s collective bargaining power for benefits.
D.O.L. goes on to say,
“The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy.”
I don’t question whether the American worker has paved the way to the greatest production or the highest standard of living. That seems obvious to me. But I do question that we are getting closer to the ideals of economic and political democracy. And I don’t understand how the nation’s Dept. of Labor is comfortable touting such a claim.
While Congress continues its vacation until Sept.9th, avoiding conflict and discussions of war, the American people must continue business as usual. Recent studies have shown findings of post-recession job openings being posted well below their previous salaries.
With unions being broken over the past three decades and the recent study, Labor Day leaves a bad taste in my mouth. An almost sarcastic, hypocritical celebration as job hours are cut so as not to provide a fair wage or benefits that used to be provided as part of the job. These days, we allow corporations to manipulate and abuse their employees through a web of loose regulations and laws tailor-made to corporate greed at the expense of the once honored American worker.
And where can we take our inspiration from this year that things may get better for us all? Fast-food workers. The proverbial bottom of the barrel. Entry level jobs striking for better wages and a sense of a fair pay for a hard day’s work. Because of the workers that call fast-food a job, a full third are adults just trying to find a way to make ends meet and survive.
If people could find better full-time jobs they would. If corporations would reinstate middle class living wages and benefits we wouldn’t have to listen to Republican lawmakers complaining about too many people taking from entitlement programs. Because, if given the choice, people will almost always choose to go back to their old way of living and pay for things themselves. The American worker still has honor today. It’s the lawmakers and business owners that no longer honor for them.
Author: Greg Miller Vertically challenged, horizontally proficient heart transplant candidate. Self professed political junkie, TV addict, hockey aficionado & closeted chef. Former airline union mechanic, salesman, disc jockey, drag racer, biker. hockey player, coach & official. Constantly thirsting for knowledge w/ a twist of the zest whilst feeding on the marrow of life. Practicing to become a renaissance man in addition to being a student of the feminine mystique. Secretly a Superfriend in search of truth, justice & the American way. An agnostic theist who believes that peace is a lifestyle. Not a salutation. Heroes include Mark Twain, Will Rogers, Leonardo DaVinci, Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Steve Martin, Tina Fey, Dave Grohl, Jimmy Page, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Carl Sagan, Wayne Gretzky, & Stan “the man” Musial.
Twenty-three percent of Americans say they don’t get paid vacation or paid days off on federal holidays [AP]
|As most workers in the United States get a paid day off from work on September 2 – Labor Day – it is a good time to think about holidays and leisure time in general.Workers in the US tend to get far too little paid time off. The US stands apart from other countries in this respect: It’s the only wealthy country in the world where workers are not guaranteed some amount of paid leave.In most European countries, workers have at least five weeks each year of paid holidays or vacation. In Germany, which is touted as a great economic success story, workers have a legal right to almost seven weeks a year of paid time off. Even in Canada, which has a culture and economy very similar to those of the US, workers can count on almost four weeks of paid holidays or vacation every year.While most workers in the US do get some paid time off, few get anywhere near as much as their counterparts in other countries. And a substantial number get nothing at all. Twenty-three percent of all workers report getting neither paid vacation nor paid days off on federal holidays.Paid time off is important for people to be able to spend time with their families, to get some rest, or just to enjoy life. But it also can have an important economic benefit in a context where the economy is well below its full employment level or output.People look to the high rate of unemployment and the large number of people who would like full-time jobs but can only get part-time work and think that times are tough; that this is a period of scarcity.
In fact, the story is just the opposite. Most people are being fed, housed, and clothed, even though employment is down by almost nine million workers from its trend level. This is an indication of our wealth. We can meet these needs even while so many people are not working.
Imagine if the 140 million people working in the US put in six percent fewer hours every year, taking this time as vacation, family leave, or just shorter work-weeks. In principle, this would increase the demand for workers by roughly six percent, creating more than eight million new jobs. This would absorb most of the country’s unemployed.
Of course in the real world, we could not just snap our fingers and shorten everyone’s work-time and fill the gap with unemployed workers. Many workers would be difficult to replace since the unemployed may not have the necessary skills. It is also difficult for firms to rearrange schedules.
There also is the essential question of whether workers would get the same pay, even as they work fewer hours. That might be desirable from the standpoint of helping workers and sustaining demand in the economy since workers spend a much larger share of their wages than corporations spend from their profits. However, there is no way easy way of forcing companies to pay higher hourly wages.
There is also the issue of market power forcing up wages. In Germany, where the unemployment rate is just 5.4 percent, the average hourly wage, adjusted for inflation, has risen by more than 4 percent since 2010. By contrast, in the US real wages have barely moved for more than a decade. The main difference is that workers have no bargaining power in the US because of high unemployment.
Many people look to Germany’s low unemployment and attribute it to a booming economy. In fact, Germany’s economy has grown no more rapidly than the US economy since the start of the downturn. Yet remarkably, Germany’s unemployment rate fell by two percentage points since 2007, while the unemployment rate rose by almost three percentage points in the US.
The reason for this difference is that Germany has an institutional structure that encourages employers to keep workers on the job but working fewer hours, rather than laying them off. This is a good short-term policy to deal with a temporary shortfall in demand. It is also a good long-term policy, since workers take part in the benefits of productivity growth in the form of more leisure time.
The average worker in Germany today puts in fewer than 1,400 hours a year, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. By comparison, an average worker in the US works 1,790 hours a year.
If German workers suddenly had to work the same number of hours as workers in the US, and their pay did not change, then employment would fall by 22 percent. Again, this sort of switch would never actually happen, but it is an interesting and thought provoking exercise.
The point is that workers in the US need not be tied to the current length of the work year. Workers in most countries have been enjoying the benefits of more leisure time over the last three decades. There is no reason that workers in the United States should not also be able to do so.
Such a reduction in hours will not only have direct benefits for workers enjoying more time off, it will also help to reduce unemployment and increase workers’ bargaining power. This will make it more likely that they will be able to share in the benefits of productivity growth in the future. That’s certainly a much better picture than high and rising unemployment.
Dean Baker is a US macroeconomist and co-founder of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research.
Follow him on Twitter: @DeanBaker13