The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

May 14, 2014

May Day is rarely acknowledged in U.S.

JOHNSTOWN — May Day, May 1, is international workers day, but rarely acknowledged in America. May Day observances have been suppressed here, even though May Day was started by American workers in the 1870s. It was quickly side-tracked into a September Labor Day to isolate U.S. workers from the more powerful solidarity with the workers of the world, a dangerous, too aggressive coalition, as viewed by our country’s dominate business and political leaders. They wanted a more tame, empty holiday unreflective of the long, brutal suppressions of U.S. labor, one of which smashed this early push for an eight-hour day and crushed the 1877 railroad strike, a work-stoppage that stretched from Chicago through our area and further east. They wanted then and still want to suppress the May Day tribute to the men and women who endured beatings, killings, firings, blacklistings, subsistence wages, no job benefits or guarantees in the fight to make America a better place to live for the majority of its citizens.

Labor’s struggle is purposely ignored in our schools and media in favor of a PR gloss of harmony between owners and workers. School textbooks, for example, proclaim Henry Ford for raising his workers’ pay to $5 a day in the 1920s, but ignore how Ford had his security guards brutally beat union leaders in the 1937 strike so his auto company could stifle union organization. Or ignore the even more violent suppressions, such as the Rockefeller interests’ use of machine guns against an encampment of workers and their families at Ludlow, Colorado, in 1914. How can we forget that steelworkers in the 1920s had to work six 12-hour days per week while having their attempts to organize smashed?

The Great Depression of the 1930s, an utter failure of capitalism, forced corporate owners to finally accede to Roosevelt-era New Deal reforms which included the right to unionize, and finally the livable wages and benefits in some leading industries that workers had long fought for. However, dominant business groups have been able to weaken labor protections steadily.

Those who try to organize unions often jeopardize or lose their jobs, despite supposed legal protections for unionizing. Free trade agreements, written with no protection for labor and allowing more American corporations to switch to countries which suppress wages and labor, have undercut the American worker, whose wages have stagnated in the last several decades.

Big chains like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s run aggressive antiunion campaigns. Large Internet corporations like Microsoft and Apple have little or no production facilities in the U.S. Auto companies now pay new hires half the old wage. Corporate profits are soaring, at the expense of their workers, employment is way down and unemployment way up and private pensions, mostly 401ks, are weaker than ever.

Right-wing governors and state legislatures are now crippling public sector unions and restricting their power to negotiate. Unions have a much more Democratic organization than the authoritarian structure of management, and are the only source of power for workers. Public pensions, often bargained for at the expense of wages, are being jeopardized and reduced. Public workers’ right to strike has long been restricted or even forbidden. A strike is the only real threat workers possess, and in a truly free country that right couldn’t be taken away. General national strikes are illegal in our free country.

The Republican Party is now more than ever a party of big wealth, despite its cover that it supports the job creators, that is, the wealthy, whose tax percentages are far down from post World War II levels. It opposes the new health-care law that gives more Americans insurance, and would privatize Medicare and cut back what it calls entitlements, like Social Security.

The Democratic Party is pretty passive on some of these threats, rarely mentioning the working class or the poor, safely saying it supports the middle class, as if we no longer had a huge underclass of poorly paid workers, of unemployed and underemployed, and most Americans looking forward to stingy pensions.

Unions and workers have more power in much of Europe and even in Canada. Germans are guaranteed five-week paid vacations; family leaves are paid and generous, as are other family financial supports; everyone is automatically covered with good health insurance; higher education (a crippling expense here) is often paid for; unemployment compensation is longer, among other benefits rarely mentioned or acknowledged here. These countries are basically capitalist, but have strong social democratic traditions.

They also celebrate May Day and all it represents.

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