Jewish World Review August 31, 2011 / 1 Elul, 5771
Labor Day celebrates what, exactly?
By Dale McFeatters
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Big Bill Hutcheson was a driving and powerful force in the labor movement as president of the United Carpenters and Joiners. He built his union to be a force to be reckoned with in the bare-knuckled days of the 1920s,'30s and '40s. He was every bit the stereotype of a labor boss.
He was also a Republican, chairman of both Herbert Hoover's and Alf Landon's labor committees and mentioned as a possible GOP candidate for vice president in 1944. He retired in 1951 and, starting what was to become a labor tradition, turned the union over to his son who shared his father's Republican sympathies.
At one time, the American labor movement was not monochromatic. There were many Republican-leaning unions, particularly among the railroads and the skilled trades.
Fast forward to today. The Wisconsin unions say they will refuse to let any Republican officials march in their Labor Day parade, retaliation for GOP Gov. Scott Walker's successful campaign to cut back on their bargaining rights.
Other governors have mounted similar campaigns against public employee unions and congressional Republicans are aggressively trying to make it harder for workers in the airline, railroad and airfreight industries harder to unionize.
Republican objections have effectively paralyzed the National Labor Relations Board, the country's chief arbiter of labor issues and one that tries, usually vainly to insure fair union representation elections against an industry of high-priced law firms and consultants that work hard to make sure the winner is not the union.
Last year, the percentage of unionized workers fell to 11.9 percent, the lowest in 70 years, and the number of workers in government unions, 7.6 million, surpassed the number in private sector unions, 7.6 million. And both of those figures were down from the previous year.
For the past decade, American workers wages have been stagnant when they haven't been falling. Presumably this is a situation made for unions, but with unemployment over 9 percent and employers quick to outsource workers fear losing what little they have.
But the country's largest and most powerful unions, like the autoworkers and the steelworkers, were formed in the '30s when conditions were much tougher. But time has passed and more know Labor Day less as a celebration of America's unionized workers than the semiofficial end of summer.
The headquarters of American labor, the AFL-CIO, sits a block from the White House in downtown Washington. Most mornings, you can hear noisy labor picket lines nearby of 20 or so people -- chanting, drumming on buckets, whistles, cowbells, picket signs and air horns.
They are protesting on behalf of the nonunion drywall hangers on construction sites. But these aren't members of the Carpenters union. They are homeless people, hard cases down on their luck, hired for $8 an hour, no benefits, to picket.
The union movement has come a long way from Big Bill Hutcheson.
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