Give a little thought to labor | Opinion

Labor Day weekend is seldom celebrated by officialdom: No speeches or proclamations from our elected officials, no solemn gatherings of citizens, no moments of silence for those who gave their lives for the labor movement. We doubt that such sacrifices are taught at depth in the public schools today, even though teachers are among the dwindling numbers of workers still represented by labor unions.

Young people should realize that the 40-hour work week, the minimum age for workers, the minimum wage for workers, and a worker’s right to be treated with a modicum of dignity didn’t come out of nowhere: It was the result of mass movements, hotly debated issues, hard-fought elections and an unfortunate amount of violence pitting business owners against their workers.

On Whidbey Island, there isn’t much unionized labor to celebrate outside of the public sector. A few grocery stores have union workers, some construction is done by union workers, but most of those employed here have no union representation. They do have worker rights guaranteed by law, however, and those rights themselves can be traced back to union activists.

For several decades now unions have been on the defensive and their ranks depleted by downsizing, mergers, outsourcing and zealous free trading that removed protections for our country’s industries and working people. There are arguments on both sides, of course, but the pendulum is always swinging, and at present it’s  swinging away from the working people.

President Obama will be speaking about jobs next week to a Congress substantially interested in seeing that he loses his job. But all should remember that workers have lost much in recent years. Million are out of work, factories are shuttered across the country, foreign lands tempt our businesses with cheap labor and lax environmental regulations. In Congress money speaks, and the people with the money are worried about corporate rights, not individual rights.

Labor Day weekend is a time for family fun, picnics and a final visit to the beach before school starts. But some thought should always be given to what the labor movement has given us over the decades, and how many of those benefits are now eroding away.



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