By Dr. John E. Warren
Special to the NNPA from The San Diego Voice & Viewpoint
Appropriately 126 years ago, the first Labor Day holiday was established to honor American workers and their place and importance in our society. It was set aside as a time for parades and celebrations. It was a time to honor workers, no matter what area of labor.
In the last 60 years, this holiday has also become a time for politicians to knick off their fall campaigns with speeches and appearances at civic events; but now, how things have changed.
While the nation’s unemployment rate appears to be stuck at approximately 10 percent, officially, it is more than 16 percent for African American adults, and nearly 50 percent for African American youth between 16 and 21.
For what may be the first time in this nation, with such high unemployment there is no national policy, legislation or proposed program to create jobs, as of this writing.
This lack of a jobs initiative appears to be a part of the Republican plan to cripple and wipe out gains made by organized labor, which represents the last potential threat to the idea of helping this nation’s poor and unemployed at the expense of the wealthy.
This is not a time for celebration, when one considers that more than 40 years ago this nation adopted a Full Employment Policy under the Humphrey/ Hawkins Full Employment Act. No one appears to remember this, including Organized Labor.
That policy set triggers for unemployment assistance to areas of high unemployment, since all of the country was not affected equally.
The difference between then and now is that 40 years ago America still had a conscience and concern for neighbors and fellow citizens whether poor or middle class. Today, the Tea Party and its Republican supporters are hiding behind a false concern for this nation’s debt, while seeking to protect the wealth of the rich by fighting tax increases and protecting their tax brakes at all cost—regardless of who is hurt.
The greatest fight for Organized Labor is no longer for pay raises, but the keeping of jobs for those who are employed, while fighting not to lose health benefits and future retirement for those younger workers entering the workforce.
Labor must educate its new generation of Public Employees to the struggles and accomplishments of the Labor movement during the last 50 year. The struggle now is to obtain Collective Bargaining under state by state attack by the Tea Party and its Republican legislative advocates. African Americans in particular should not forget the struggles of A. Philip Randolph and the Sleeping Car Porters who had to fight for human dignity in their work place as well as wages.
Today, the so called “playing field” is still not level when one considers the disparity in wages that continues between men and women and between Blacks and Whites in particular. While other ethnic groups like Latinos and Asians have entered the picture, disproportionate representation of Blacks still exist in the Trade and Construction industries; imported workers are taking jobs that many Americans refuse to do, even in this period of high unemployment. A number of unemployed people must come to grips with the difference between a job and a position.
Yes, this Labor Day is not one for celebration. Rather, it is a day for reflection, observance and a recommitment to developing strategies that will provide jobs for our own unemployed, before exporting jobs or importing workers for existing technical jobs.
Truly the struggle continues.