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Labor Daydreams By: Lowell Ponte
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, September 02, 2002

“LABOR DAY DIFFERS IN EVERY ESSENTIAL WAY from the other holidays of the year in any country,” proclaimed Samuel Gompers, founding father and longtime leader of the American Federation of Labor.“Labor Day…is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation.”

This difference is what Americans should celebrate most over this and every Labor Day holiday, for our Labor Day symbolizes the unique success of workers in the United States.

In most other industrial nations, especially in Europe, organized labor celebrates its presence on May Day. An 1889 congress of world socialist parties in Paris designated this day for workers to demonstrate their power by not coming to work each May 1 — a kind of one day national strike or work stoppage to happen each year, beginning in 1890.

This socialist-hijacked pagan holiday of spring has thus in Europe been turned into a day of red flags, class warfare hate speeches, and the sowing of seeds of dissatisfaction and anger. It was also the day that a now-kaput Soviet Union paraded its newest killing machines in Moscow’s Red Square.

Labor Day is America is entirely different, as Gompers understood. Celebrated as a national holiday of unity and satisfaction on the first Monday of September since 1894, it coincides with a time of harvest, bounty, sunny skies and happiness.

And rightly so, because American workers share richly in the prosperity that capitalism’s economic liberty and productivity create. American workers, blue and white collar, through their company and union pension plans own a much bigger share of the “means of production” than has ever been controlled by workers in socialist or communist nations. (Think of the symbolism of millionaire baseball players setting a strike date for Labor Day weekend!)

Socialists here took the lead in trying to make May Day an American holiday to display class warfare muscle. Their 1886 effort in Chicago sparked days of hot rhetoric, work stoppage, and clashes between strikers and replacement workers that culminated on May 4th in the “Haymarket Riot,” a terrorist bomb explosion that killed seven policemen and wounded 200 of them, and that prompted police to fire into a crowd of demonstrators with tragic consequences.

But when the horrors of Haymarket happened, America’s modern Labor Day was already four years old. Inspired by Peter McGuire, AFL co-founder and general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners in New York City, and Matthew Maguire, secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, New Jersey, the first Labor Day holiday was celebrated September 5, 1882, in New York City.

Whenever asked what his workers wanted, the crusty cigar-maker Samuel Gompers had a one word reply: “More!”

Socialist-controlled European unions used their workers as cannon fodder in ideological wars, thereby helping plunge European politics into the nightmares of Hitler and Stalin. This labor movement’s aim was not to better the lives of workers, but to overthrow capitalism and establish a Marxist utopia.

American workers, by contrast, generally avoided ideology and focused instead as Gompers taught on winning concrete improvements in working conditions, benefits, and income. While European unions flirted with Communism, in America the AFL-CIO became President Lyndon Johnson’s strongest supporter for his war against Communism in Vietnam.

And, paradoxically, the very success of organized labor has created one of its most powerful internal contradictions. Millions of workers have achieved solid middle-class incomes — and the high taxes confiscated from such incomes. Research has found that in some unions 40 percent of members now vote Republican and that many are unhappy that fatcat union bosses send their coerced dues money one-sidedly to the Democratic Party.

Samuel Gompers wanted his unions to avoid entanglements with government, ideology, or political parties. But while workers have prospered, union membership has fallen from almost 50 percent of the workforce half a century ago to only about 15 percent today. And during this decline, union bosses have been in thrall to the Democratic Party, even in the wake of President Bill Clinton’s betrayals of American factory workers.

Almost the only workers being recruited into unions nowadays are government employees. The most recent of these are airport baggage security screeners, some of whom have been put to work at $40,000 per year (minus the fat chunk kicked back for high-living union bosses and the Democratic Party) jobs with as little as 15 minutes of training.

This has produced a schism.Blue collar workers do not want more of their paychecks confiscated as higher taxes for bigger government.But parasitic unionized government workers get their pay, perks, and power from squeezing ever-more tax money out of the rest of us. AFL-CIO boss John Sweeney comes from a union mostly made up of government employees, and he has been willing and eager to stab factory workers in the back if doing so helps make government bigger.

In her 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand described what would happen if the productive people of the world staged their own work stoppage and ceased supporting all those who live parasitically by confiscating the fruits of their labors.

In Great Britain, several conservative Members of Parliament and candidates are reportedly seriously discussing whether to form a breakaway party to advance Ayn Rand-like ideas. (Such a schism on the right, say observers, would in the short run probably rescue Tony Blair’s increasingly-unpopular Labour Party from potential defeat.)

As we Labor Daydream beneath sunny skies this long weekend, it’s worth pondering whether the National Taxpayers Union could mobilize a nationwide strike by taxpayers, many of whom are now required to work more than half of every day just to fatten local, state and federal governments that are already thousands of times bigger than what America’s founders rebelled against in 1776.

The great exploiter of today’s workers is not Big Business but Big Government. The reason is obvious: as a popular investment ad puts it, “If you don’t keep it [because of confiscatory taxes], did you really earn it?” We need to organize again to redress unfairness, this time as an American Federation of Taxpayers, AFT-IOU. Happy Labor Day.

Mr. Ponte co-hosts a national radio talk show Monday through Friday 6-8 PM Eastern Time (3-5 PM Pacific Time) on the Genesis Communications Network. Internet Audio worldwide is at GCNlive .com. The show's live call-in number is 1-800-259-9231. A professional speaker, he is a former Roving Editor for Reader's Digest.

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