Celebrate Labor Day. Really, celebrate. It’s important.
Wear a t-shirt announcing to the world the name of your union and march in a parade, chanting and whooping it up about how glad you are to belong to an organization whose members are devoted to looking out for each other. If you’re among those without a union, proclaim your profession and declare your pride in the hard work you do. Make some happy noise. Infect your fellow marchers with your zeal.
Invite your most beleaguered neighbors, friends and co-workers over for a picnic. Raise a pint, braise some burgers and praise your companions for their skill, devotion and compassion. Recognize them for all they’ve persevered through since this relentless recession began in December of 2007. Build esprit de corps among your fellow workers.
This is one day devoted to labor, to the middle class, to the majority. One day out of 365. On this holiday, everyone gives an obligatory nod to workers. So don’t fret this Labor Day. Don’t waste it away in apathetic doldrums. Don’t let the minority rich and their purchased politicians take this celebration away from us too.
Some, including former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, have called for protests on Labor Day. They say workers must use this opportunity to demand that Washington solve the real crisis debilitating this country – dogged joblessness.
Reich is right. But it’s too early for that. Ultimately, workers must flip this ugly situation upside down so that once a year it’s Rich People’s Day. Once a year, the middle class gives the frivolous Kardashians and tax-shirking GEs of the world an obligatory nod. But every other day, 364 days a year, is labor day.
Then, we would have a country committed to the wellbeing of the majority, the middle class, the workers, whose labor creates wealth.
Getting there is a long haul from where we are now, though. We must develop some self-confidence before we start protesting. Achieving the change we want requires an uprising of hope and anger. There’s plenty of anger out there. The populace is seething after suffering years of “no, not-for-you” politics from country club conservatives:
No more unemployment insurance extensions. No more Social Security and Medicare as you and your parents know it. No public option, providing health insurance for all. No end to tax breaks for corporations that off-shore jobs. No more Trade Adjustment Assistance workers who lose their jobs because of off-shoring. No end to tax breaks for corporate jets. No end to tax breaks for oil companies making billions. No end to income tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires. No extension of the payroll tax break for the middle class. No reasonable restrictions on the big Wall Street banks that got bailed out with taxpayer money. No help for unemployed homeowners threatened with foreclosure. And no, there won’t be any jobs program. The country club conservatives must sustain high unemployment to regain the White House. So too bad for the jobless.
These unremitting attacks on the middle class have left workers feeling beaten up and beaten down. Workers are suffering from what author, psychologist and social critic Bruce E. Levine calls “battered people syndrome.” Exhausted, depressed, and blaming themselves for the country’s problems, too many workers feel unable to challenge the elite overlords.
This combination of anger and hopelessness produces destruction and self-destruction, like the riots that left London burning last summer. Hopeless about their future and angry at the rich for bilking the poor and at expense-padding British politicians imposing “austerity,” the city’s jobless ruffians abandoned morals, just as the wealthy and the ruling class had.
Frances Fox Piven counsels in her book, Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America that hope is crucial, that constructive change arises from the mix of hope and anger. In places like Libya and Egypt this Arab Spring, wealth proved insufficient to overpower the majority invigorated by hope and anger.
The bitch for the rich in a democracy like America’s is that majority rules. And, frankly, the rich and corporations (newly dubbed persons by the U.S. Supreme Court) are a tiny minority in America.
Even though we’re the majority, workers can’t win until we hope we can, until we feel some assurance that we can overcome. It’s a long haul to hope from resignation and pessimism.
So let’s put some effort into fostering optimism. Let’s strengthen each other this Labor Day. We must raise that hope before we organize Reich’s protests.
Leo W. Gerard also is a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Committee and chairs the labor federation’s Public Policy Committee. President Barack Obama recently appointed him to the President’s Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations. He serves as co-chairman of the BlueGreen Alliance and on the boards of the Apollo Alliance, Campaign for America’s Future and the Economic Policy Institute. He is a member of the IMF and ICEM global labor federations and was instrumental in creating Workers Uniting, the first global union. Follow @USWBlogger