Monday is Labor Day, a national holiday in America that's come to be as meaningless as the Easter bunny. It is a holiday that millions of Americans struggled to bring into existence. Hundreds more died or were maimed or beaten, they were bloodied but they were not bent. They were shot at by national guardsman, policeman, sheriffs and hired thugs but were not turned back. They were turned out of their company houses during snowstorms. They had firehoses turned on them in subfreezing temperatures. Their leaders were shot down on public streets and their murderers were never charged.
They were shot at inside their tents and their wives and children were starved and murdered before their eyes but they would not yield. So it was that during a Southern Illinois coal strike the mine owners brought in scabs from out of state to work the mine. The local police were supposed to show up and escort the scabs out of the mine at the end of their shift and back to their camp but the weather was bad with sleet and snow and the cops didn't show.
The scabs got pretty scared and the strikers pent up fury turned to jubilation when they realized the scabs were on their own. The strikers jeered and taunted the scabs and made mock rush charges on the front gate of mine and the scabs in a panic broke in a run. Over the next few miles the scabs were shot, stabbed and clubbed to death in the snow. You see this was a war, and a man who is taking your job away is taking the food off your table. A person who steps between an employer and an employee deserves what they get.
Labor Day is scarier than Halloween, colder than New Year's and as somber as Christmas. It is a horror show of injustice, of massacre and counter massacre, depravity and cruelty all in a search for a living wage. The workers made outrageous demands, an eight-hour day, a forty-hour week. Children used to ride the coal conveyors picking out slag and large pieces of coal that might clog the conveyor. If they slipped or fell there were always more children.
Children worked in the sewing and textile mills their small hands useful on the bobbins and if they slipped or were careless they might lose a finger or two and their job as well. These children worked because even with their mother and father and siblings all working they couldn't make enough to support themselves in America on the wages paid to the workers.
Oh, but that was long ago, back in the dark ages, the world is more enlightened now. In China, teenage girls labor eleven hours a day six days week. They sit on wooden benches and paint blue eyes on Barbie dolls. A vexing irony of teenage girls in peonage painting happy faces on a fantasy dream girl teen fashion model. The girls live twenty to a room and they complain that they are cheated on their pay and sexually harassed by their supervisors. In most cases they are young and hundreds of miles from home and if they are fired will have no money and no place to go.
All so the corporation can make more money, same story different continent. American autoworkers now start at $14.00 per hour half of what they used to make all so the company can make more money. It's only temporary because the American Automakers plan to double their manufacturing capacity in Mexico by the end of the decade.
For eight years the minimum wage did not rise and that is a mortal sin against God. With inflation averaging three percent that is a twenty four percent wage cut for the lowest paid members of our society. Wages for working people have risen on average one percent so with inflation you take a ten-percent pay cut every five years.
What has happen to our economy is a continuation of the Matewan battleground it is a war between the haves and the have nots. The prices still rise and now instead of ten, now its twenty people that want your job and if you leave it they will hire someone else for less money.
So the cat food commission spins and weaves because poor people without income growth can't afford such luxurious social programs. Autoworkers earning $14.00 dollars an hour can't contribute the way autoworkers making $28.00 could. The wealthy and the powerful have rolled back unions and even convinced some working people that unions are their mortal enemy and the corporations are their dear friends. Do you know what their dear friends the corporations have done? Because times are hard and people can't afford to go out as much the cable and satellite providers have raised their rates by seven percent this year twice the rate of inflation.
Many cable companies use contractors for installation and pay them on piecework just like they did old Tom Joad. There was an ad here recently for work that wanted people to pass out handbills door to door for a roofing company and if they got a roofing job they would pay you $50.00 maybe. Early in the spring I had a gentleman come to the door trying to sell Braves Baseball discount coupon books. It was piecework just like old Tom Joad.
The big banks posted a $21.6 billion dollar profit for the three months in the second quarter. What hard times? This is the new gilded age, where workers keep there mouths shut and quake in fear of the next lay off. This is a war; this is Detroit in the 1920's where rumors of lay offs at Ford prompted a run a black hair dye. There was no such thing as seniority then just as it has become antiquated concept now.
The big banks are pushing out the small banks just as the big fruit growers pushed out the same growers in Tom Joad's day. "What are you doing this to your own people for?"
"Three dollars a day!"
"But your three dollars a day means a hundred people can't eat."
"What happens to other folks in their own look out."