Over the past couple of decades, Labor Day has been celebrated as just another three-day weekend, possibly the start of the new school year, or the end of summer, but for most Americans it is just another day of unappreciated labor. One thing Labor Day is not, and this year was no exception, is a celebration of America’s dying labor movement, and certainly not dedicated to the social and economic achievements of all workers, or a tribute to the contributions America’s workforce made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of the richest nation on Earth. It is not that American workers are not as productive as any labor force on Earth, quite the contrary; they are just a cheap, expendable, highly-productive labor source that enriches American business and it is exactly as Republicans intend to keep them.
America’s workers should be aggrieved, and in mourning, that not only is their hard work under-appreciated and devalued by businesses paying slave wages, they are under a sustained assault by Republicans that goes far beyond attacking organized labor. Even though the Republican goal of destroying organized labor is an atrocity, one cannot possibly criticize Republicans’ anti-union crusade too harshly. The Obama Administration’s education reforms are, in great part, an elemental anti-union movement strategy specifically targeting teacher unions, but that is the subject of another article. However, assaulting organized labor is where the (secret) partnership between Republicans and President Obama ends and where the war to help America’s workers is being waged in earnest. When it comes to recognizing the value, achievements, and contributions by labor to America, President Obama’s advocacy for workers acknowledges they deserve tribute in the form of fair compensation, and not just a meaningless federal holiday.
American labor was duly underappreciated by business, particularly big business, until FDR enacted the New Deal’s worker protections. Republicans have long sought to undo all the labor protections in the New Deal whether it was overtime pay, 40-hour work week, lunch breaks, or workplace safety regulations to re-create the near-slave labor conditions for businesses and corporations that existed prior to the New Deal. Although the President has called for raising the minimum wage for the past two years, Republican opposition is unrelenting regardless support among the population. In fact, some Republicans called for eliminating the federal minimum wage because it suits their corporate sponsor’s wanton greed and desire to match the wages of third world countries where they prefer to conduct business. Their contempt for America’s workers earning anything more than slave wages has left the President to acknowledge the value of America’s workers through executive action, and when possible, see to it they are paid for the time they work; what some conservatives consider an undeserved luxury.
Last March the President signed an executive action revising federal overtime rules to make millions of American workers earning less than poverty level wages eligible for extra pay when they work more than 40 hours a week. The President said, “Americans have spent too long working more and getting less in return. Unfortunately today, millions of Americans aren’t getting the extra pay they deserve. Overtime is a pretty simple idea. If you have to work more, you should get paid more.” Republicans adamantly disagree and passed legislation in the House to eliminate overtime pay to give businesses greater profits on the backs of underpaid American workers. In fact, shortly after the President’s executive order, a rash of conservatives assailed any worker expecting to be paid for working over 40 hours as being greedy moochers with no dedication and loyalty to companies they work for, as well as being entitled to something they did not deserve; be paid for work.
Although congressional Republicans have been somewhat thwarted in their attacks and blatant disregard for American workers, their state level cohorts are passing pre-emptive laws to keep their constituents working for poverty-level wages. For example, Oklahoma Republicans passed a law banning cities from passing minimum wage increases as well as enacting paid sick days or vacation requirements; Republicans claimed higher wages and humanitarian benefits are detrimental to corporate profits and kill jobs. However, over two decades of expert analysis of minimum wage increases revealed that even when unemployment is high, there is no evidence that wage hikes affected job creation; no less than five different studies reached the same conclusion. In fact, after San Francisco passed a minimum wage increase last year, employment grew by more than 5% while nearby counties experienced job growth declines. It is noteworthy to mention that in European nations such as Denmark, the minimum wage for fast food (McDonald’s) workers over 21 years of age is $21 per hour including mandatory paid five-week vacations; up to age 21 workers’ minimum wage is $15 hourly and full benefits. Instead of losing profits, McDonald’s franchises’ profits are on par, or higher, than their American counterparts and similar product costs are on average 3-4 cents higher. A living minimum wage does not kill business or jobs any more than overtime pay, paid sick leave, or paid vacations do, but Republicans hate them because they are a way of acknowledging a workers’ worth and not out of regard for jobs.
Several Republican-led states, like Oklahoma, have passed “blanket bans on raising the minimum wage” in a pre-emptive assault on workers. Kansas governor recently signed a wage increase ban and several others have had the bans on the books for up to a decade including Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Oregon, and Texas according to the National Employment Law Project. Many Republican states are following the ALEC-created Florida law where Republicans enacted preemptive bans forbidding cities and counties from passing paid sick leave laws. Ten Republican states now have those anti-worker bans in effect with seven cities and one state enacting bans within the last year, and many others considering assaulting workers as a part of a nationwide Republican anti-worker crusade. With no evidence that higher wages, paid sick leave, or overtime pay hurts business profits or kills jobs, it is glaringly apparent Republicans will go to great lengths to put American workers on par with third world nations where slave wages are the norm.
When those “great lengths” such as abolishing the minimum wage, overtime pay, and 40-hour work weeks failed, Republicans gave their undying support to corporations that ship American jobs overseas where slave wages are a luxury. For the past two years, President Obama and Democrats have attempted to entice companies to relocate back to America with generous tax incentives, but Republicans blocked those efforts unless New Deal worker protections are abolished in their entirety; not because they hurt business or kill jobs, but because they protect labor and acknowledge American labor’s valuable contributions to the nation and corporate profits.
To be fair, some American businesses, like those in Europe, do value their workers’ contributions to their profits and pay them a good living wage, provide healthcare, paid vacations, and sick leave and they are prospering and expanding contradicting Republican claims to the contrary. However, they are the exception in America where the U.S. Chamber of Commerce leads the attack on workers whether it is funding opposition to raising the minimum wage, supporting ALEC’s template legislation banning sick leave, overtime pay, and paid vacations, or supporting corporations shipping American jobs to third world countries. Jobs, by the way, the Chamber of Commerce and Republicans would bring back to America tomorrow if Americans would work for slave wages typical in Indonesia, China, and South America.
Republicans, the Chamber of Commerce, and large corporations have made a mockery of the idea and purpose Labor Day was once celebrated regardless it is American workers that made America, and business, prosperous and successful. What is curious, really, is why workers in southern states with “right to work” (for less) laws continue voting for Republicans keeping wages low. It is also stunning that workers earning poverty-level wages are not driven to mass work stoppages for being called greedy for expecting to be paid; especially by congressional Republicans drawing bloated, taxpayer-funded salaries and benefits for doing nothing while taking several unwarranted extended paid vacations throughout the year. American workers need to come to their senses and put the same effort into demanding fair wages as they do their world-leading productivity if for no other reason than as tribute to the labor movement that fought for the rights Republicans are on pace to eliminate with little to no resistance from American workers.