Sunday, September 6, 2009

Labor Day and Free Trade

Labor Day, what a concept for a national holiday. Actually, it is an international holiday celebrating the achievements of labor in economic and social advancement as a result of acceptance of the eight-hour day movement: Eight hours of work, eight hours of leisure and eight hours of rest.

A bit ironic isn't it? Here we are coming out of the worst recession since the Great Depression and labor is not valued as it once was. Due to NAFTA and the concept of "free trade" our workers must now compete against workers willing or forced to work for a few cents a day. Ross Perot was right when he predicted that with NAFTA you would begin to hear a sucking sound as American jobs were sucked out of the country.

How did this happen? I saw it start during the 1980s when the right-wing propaganda machine geared up and started telling us that unions resulted in overpaid and underworked employees. They would point to the automobile workers and claim super-high salaries and inferior products. However accurate this view might have been at the time it neglected to also criticize the incredibly high CEO and management salaries.

NAFTA and "free trade" have indeed brought America lower priced goods. In return we have lost millions of jobs in the textile, automobile and other manufacturing fields. In fact, over 90% of the products sold at Wallmart are made in China. Former blue collar workers with decent salaries are now forced to compete for the minimum wage jobs offered within the "service industry". That means flipping burgers to support your family with no fringe benefits.

The Republican solution to the problem was to further erode working wage jobs by passing "right to work" laws that pretty much destroyed decent salaries for construction workers. With right to work laws you had a right to work at skilled jobs for minimum wages. That is why you see so many illegal aliens, primarily hispanic males, working on construction and developer sites. Has this benefitted the U.S. economy. Well, yes if you only consider the increased profit income of the developers and stockholders in the megasize companies. I know a local fairly young developer that now has 5 Porches, a gold rolex watch, a million dollar home, a showcase wife with diamonds the size of walnuts on her fat fingers, and two vacation homes. While he certainly has the right to his wealth I often wonder at what sacrifice his worker ants had to labor to ensure him of his income.

Union jobs have declined dramatically during the last 20 years. In fact, in is difficult to find a construction union worker now days. When I find one I often feel like telling them to hang in there and fight to keep their job and at a decent working wage.

I am proud to be an American and I am proud of our history of citizens fighting for the right cause. The 8 hour work day, Social Security and Medicare benefits for our retired elderly, a minimum wage, child labor reform, work safety laws, right of women to work, paid holidays, pension and health benefits, all hard won fights by and for our working people.

The right-wing propaganda machine will continue to scream socialism, communism at anything that looks like it might take profits and share them with the workers. Workers who by their daily labor produce the goods and services that enrich our society and the pocketbooks of working men and women.

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