Labor movement slowing down in America
Labor Day, a time when Americans can kick back and relax, enjoy the last days of summer and prepare for the school year. But that wasn’t always the case.
The international movement for labor rights has its roots in the United States. The average American worker now has rights, an eight hour work day, general benefits and the support of labor unions; all of this would not have been possible if it were not for the workers movements of the late 1800’s when America was experiencing an era of industrialization and worker exploitation.
In 1886, federal trade and labor unions declared May 1st a national day of strikes, protests and endless demonstrations. The actions ignited labor movements across the country, culminating in the Chicago Haymarket Massacre. It was this movement that eventually gave the American worker the eight hour work day and sparked a global movement for workers’ rights, now celebrated every year on May 1st – May Day.
Every year, May Day has become a time for workers worldwide to rise up against what they deem are corrupt employers, corporations and banks.
But the US government has never honored May Day as a national labor holiday because of fears of associating itself with socialism. Instead the first Monday of every September became the nationally recognized Labor Day.
Referencing the way workers movements organized and how it took decades to get the eight hour work day. Sarah Sloan said, "There were many decades of struggle and the U.S. government knew very well that it was led by socialists who were the most militant fighters for workers rights."
Other influential forces in the American workers movement were trade and labor unions. In their infancy, these unions had no recognized afflictions with political parties. However, Sloan argued that all that has changed.
"Unfortunately many union leaders today are tied to the Democratic Party," she said.
During his election campaign US President Barack Obama promised labor unions he would pass the Employee Free Choice Act which would empower employees to join or form their own unions.
“Following the election, the Democrats and Obama reneged on their promises and the labor unions have accepted that and backed off pushing for the Employee Free Choice ACT" said Sloan.
Sloan suggested the country’s more mainstream unions have been neutralized in their bargaining abilities with employers. As a result, they have become part of the establishment.
“We began reversing and replacing old anti-labor executive orders, polices with ones that protect your benefits, and protect your safety and protect your rights to organize and collectively bargain,” said President Obama during a speech at a union rally held by the AFL-CIO.
“They don't have a broader perspective of what is truly in workers interest which would be an alternative to capitalism. And because of that it greatly hinders the struggle when they agree to being held back by the Democratic Party."
As Americans celebrate the struggles of labor movements in the country, one has to wonder how much progress has been made since American workers fought and died for workers’ rights.
Alan Maass, the editor of SocialistWorker.org, said the US labor movement peaked in 1956 and then entered a steady decline that continues to this day.
He attributed the decline to the efforts of corporations pushing an offensive against unions and the complacency of unions who agreed to compromise with corporate interests.
Maass further argued that the current union leadership is simply out of touch with those they supposedly represent.
“I think that the alliance with the Democratic Party, which has been seen as the key thing that the labor movement needs to do is to continue electing pro-labor democrats has been an Achilles heel for the labor movement over a period of years. In fact, and we see it with the Obama administration today, when the Democrats get in office all the rhetoric about serving the ordinary people of the society, working people, goes by the wayside and you have them serving corporate interests first,” said Maass.
There are some individuals today looking to find other strategies, resist concessions and organize the unorganized in America, even with the declining numbers in the labor movement. Currently half of all unionized workers live in only six states.