Sunday, September 03, 2006

Happy Labor Sunday!

So here I am, doing the socially expected thing on Labor Day weekend. I'm at my friend's house, at a party with lots of other friends. What is maybe not so conventionally accepted is hiding away in his office and composing a blog entry (yes... I did ask his permission first, and he's probably going to wonder what type of unsavory things I might be doing up here on his computer for so long). And all of this is in the service of making sure I have a post for today. Should I be downstairs, involving myself in the reverie? Well it is (almost) Labor Day.

It strikes me as ironic that the meaning of this holiday has devolved to simply "a day without work" (at least for many with salaried jobs). According to official sources, Labor Day:

"...is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country." By the end of the 1880's Pennsylvania had followed eight other states in observing the holiday with a legislative bill. In 1894, Congress made it a federal holiday. Traditionally it is supposed to be celebrated with a parade honoring the solidarity of workers, and followed by a festival. Make it a point to attend the parade in your community!

Technically, today is Labor Sunday. It is supposed to be "dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement." I'm doing my part here. But I wonder what happened to that original intention. I had not ever heard of "Labor Sunday" before I sat down at this computer tonight. The president has issued no proclamations. He certainly has other "spiritual and educational " matters to attend to.

It occurs to me to wonder how many people take a moment or two from their festivities to reflect upon this meaning. It was originally started by the Central Labor Union. There was a time in our country when involvement in a union was something to be proud of. Today union membership nationwide hovers around 12% of all workers. I have heard many people say that unions have served their purpose in history, but it is time now for them "to go away".

Have unions truly lost their utility in enhancing the lives of their members?
Here I've provided a few facts to ponder... before I rejoin the party...

"In 2005, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, full-time wage and salary workers who were union members had median weekly earnings of $801, compared with a median of $622 for wage and salary workers who were not members."

and

"Since 2003, as the New York Times reported last week, the median hourly wage for American workers has declined 2 percent, despite a steady rise in worker productivity over the same period. In fact, after adjusting for inflation, the number of hours worked and an increase in the number of household members working full-time, family income in the United States has not increased for more than a quarter century.

In other words, Americans are working more, but earning less"

Source: The Providence Journal... September 3, 2006

4 Comments:

Blogger John Morris said...

But, What causes inflation?

9:14 PM  
Anonymous lee said...

I live here near Dulles airport which his a hub for United Airlines. I dated a guy who worked for them and was part of their union. He started working for them right out of highschool, and the money was great for a kid. Still pretty good for an adult, frankly, especially when they get over-time. He was a baggage handler and really only unloaded/loaded two, maybe three planes a day, which translated to about 3 hours of actual work in a 10 hour day (they had 4 day work weeks). So all that sounds kind of good, I guess. Except what happens to these people is they get stuck. They're making good money with little work yes, but there's no way to move up. Sure you can get a better schedule or move to an exotic locale, but in the end they're still a bag thrower. This guy's been there about 17 years now and has no skills. Threats of downsizing persist and I wonder sometimes what will happen to him should he lose his job.

8:37 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

John,

I hardly believe that union labor is the sole cause of inflation. While union membership was declining at an extremely rapid rate in the late 70's and 80's, inflation was skyrocketing.

Inflation could be looked at as simply a function of your so-called "free market". Why shouldn't the market value labor costs as it does any other resource? It's supply and demand. In the case of unions, workers themselves have a stake in determing their own worth.

11:01 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Lee,

The airlines are one of the most highly subsidized transportatiion industries in the US. They have relied on assistance from the government since the inception of commercial air travel. I don't believe that fact is mainly a reflection of the industry's labor costs. But that's a bit tangential from what you are saying.

Many unions work to provide training, or fight for companies to do the same, for workers. There is just as much opportunity to get "stuck" in the non-union American workforce, but there price of labor is undercut by outsourcing and illegal immigrants.

11:09 AM  

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