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Webster’s dictionary says that Labor Day was “set aside for special recognition of working people.”
How nice. But “set aside” by whom? Certainly not by the Wall Street, corporate, and political Powers That Be. They nearly swallowed their $100 cigars when the idea of honoring labor’s importance to America’s economy and social well-being was first proposed in 1882. Rather, this holiday was created by working people themselves in a 12-year political struggle that culminated with an act of Congress in 1894.
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The campaign helped coalesce old and emerging unions into a national movement. But it also countered the haughty insistence of the robber barons of that time that they were America’s “makers” – the invaluable few whose monopolistic pursuits must be unfettered, for corporations are the God-ordained creators of wealth. Labor Day put both political symbolism and organized muscle behind Abraham Lincoln’s conviction that the real makers are the many ground-level workers who actually do the making: “Labor is prior to and independent of capital,” Abe declared in his first state of the union address. “Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”
Yet, on this Labor Day, robber barons are again ascendant, declaring that they owe no shared prosperity to the American people who sustain them. They are blithely shredding America’s social contract, and again insisting that the corporate elite must be unfettered, unions eliminated, and middle-class jobs Walmarted.
Their deliberate hollowing out of our middle class is not just ignorant, but immoral. And dangerous. After all, even a dog knows the difference between being stumbled over… and being kicked.