It’s Labor Day, go to work

The Man, or some facsimile of him, will burn on Saturday night. (In case you haven’t heard, someone prematurely, cruelly and perhaps humorously lit our hero up.) It will be another unforgettable night on another unforgettable weekend. What has actually been forgotten is the reason people are able to head up to the Black Rock Desert. It’s a three-day weekend, during which many of us get an extra day off in order to honor the engines that make this country run: human labor. And we have three-day weekends not through the benevolence of business but because of the activism of workers.

It’s Labor Day on Sept. 3. Have you forgotten? Were you thinking it was just a day to drink a beer, barbecue a chicken, play a game of Frisbee with your cousin-in-law-by-marriage?

That burning effigy can stand as an effective metaphor for the labor movement in the United States. Like Burning Man, the labor movement began among a few people who wanted to work with like-minded people to achieve a result. In the case of labor, those workers desired shorter working hours, decent pay, better working conditions. In any case, though, it was the First Amendment that allowed the people to congregate peaceably—although sometimes, business and labor were anything but peaceful.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The labor movement has gone through many changes in this country. Like Burning Man, there have been changes in the leadership of the labor movement that, at times, went in directions that outsiders and peons didn’t always agree with. In the case of the labor movement, involvement with organized crime undermined the faith of nonmembers and members alike.

Pro-business, anti-worker interests have long taken advantage of the revolving doors for lobbyists on Capitol Hill and even state and city offices to weaken the collective bargaining powers of groups. Among other things, they attacking the unions’ ability to sway elections with money, something the anti-worker corporations do with impunity, in spite of the fact that business money always overwhelms labor money in every election in every year.

The construction boom in Northern Nevada has been a benefit to many of the workers’ unions hereabouts. The problem is while the builders’ unions have benefited, unions like the culinary unions haven’t kept up with the growth. Pretty easy to see that management has won the battle, hereabouts, if not the war. However, there are still hints of unions’ past greatness and power. For example, members of Culinary Workers Union Local 226 employed at Reno’s Grand Sierra Resort are expected to vote this month on measures that could lead to a strike.

For this dispute, monthly health care costs are at issue. A family plan costs workers $30 a month. The Grand Sierra wants to raise that to about $60 a month for individuals and more than $170 a month on the family plan. The vote is expected to come on Aug. 30, just three days before Labor Day. There are many of us who could only wish our health insurance was so cheap—and the worker unions are surely part of the reason for that low cost.

The labor movement may have gotten a little singed, as has the Man, but it’s pretty clear that many of the inroads corporate America has made against unions have not been beneficial for those of us who don’t belong to them.