Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The End of Work

ast night, as I drove by the offices of the AFL/CIO, there was a large picnic in their parking lot, just a few yards from the front lawn of the Texas state capitol. With Labor Day just around the corner, and with everyone talking about jobs, jobs, jobs, and practically no one doing anything about it, it, it, it seems like a timely subject to think about.

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, 1883.

In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a "workingmen's holiday" on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.

The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21, 1887. During the year four more states — Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — created the Labor Day holiday by legislative enactment. By the end of the decade Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had followed suit.

By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers, and on June 28 of that year, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.

But today, the glory days of labor are long gone. Almost 36% of American workers were represented by unions in 1945.

Today, the union membership rate--the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of a union--is 11.9 percent, down from 12.3 percent a year earlier. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions declined by 612,000 to 14.7 million. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, and there were 17.7 million union workers.

In 2010, 7.6 million public sector employees belonged to a union, compared with 7.1 million union workers in the private sector. The union membership rate for public sector workers (36.2 percent) was substantially higher than the rate for private sector workers (6.9 percent). Within the public sector, local government workers had the highest union membership rate, 42.3 percent. This group includes workers in heavily unionized occupations, such as teachers, police officers, and fire fighters.

Private sector industries with high unionization rates included transportation and utilities (21.8 percent), telecommunications (15.8 percent), and construction (13.1percent).

Today most unions are aligned with one of two larger umbrella organizations: the AFL-CIO created in 1955 and the Change to Win Federation, which split from the AFL-CIO in 2005. Both advocate policies and legislation on behalf of workers in the United States and Canada, and take an active role in politics. The AFL-CIO is especially concerned with global trade issues.

Personally, I like Richard Trumka the President of the AFL-CIO. He's got the traits of Hoffa without the dumpster. His speech for Obama during the 08 campaign was a remarkable feat.

Ever since they passed the Taft Hartley Act, the R's have attacked unions. They are still doing it today. The would probably repeal Labor Day if they could. Instead, they will content themselves taking labor's rights away wherever they can, diminishing pensions whenever possible.

In a just world, unions might not be necessary. Or it could be argued they would be essential.

It used to be that it was in the best interests of Capital to build up a strong middle class with workers sending their sons and daughters to college to become lawyers and doctors. This kind of leavening of the society would bring more prosperity for all.

But the big markets are no longer primarily in US or in Europe. They are in China and India. And that means even tougher times for Trumka and his workers, as American bosses seek to compete in those burgeoning markets.

Sure, I wish the president would put everyone who wants to work to work-building fast trains, and renewable energy supplies, and fair housing, and all the other things that would bring us true prosperity and well being.

But if you didn't want to work, you should be given a minimum national salary, much like that socialist Richard Nixon proposed when he was president.

I suspect that won't happen.

For we have forgotten greatness,

And our super ego has us hypnotized.

For the End of Work

Is upon us.

We just don't know it yet.

Its a big job.

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