A Labour Day Thought Worth Repeating

September 6, 2010

Because it’s the last long weekend of the summer, and because it’s rainy and dreary outside, and because we’re lazy, and because we’re still reeling from the realization that Nicholas Cage can actually still act, having watched him in Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant last night, because of all this, we’re bringing you our first, official repeat column.

Hey. Everyone’s doing it. It is still summer after all.

We’re not entirely laying a turd on you or anything. It will be topical. Since it’s Labour Day, we’d thought we’d replay the column written by our colleague, Acaphlegmic, on May 1st. The Other Labour Day.

It’s just as pertinent now as it was way back then, perhaps even more so. As our municipal campaign has heated up, the anti-labour/anti-union rhetoric has only intensified. To some of our politicians and their rabid followers, city unions and workers are a big part of the myriad of problems the city faces. Just like the auto workers were when they were asked to take pay and benefit cuts to help out their poor, beleaguered employers. If only they wouldn’t demand so much, maybe the industry wouldn’t have found itself in the dire straits  it did.

Yeah. That was the problem.

The face of labour may be changing but we should take a moment today and stop to remember that much of what we have, like the first day in September being work free for many of us, is not due to the munificence of the markets or the beneficence of our bosses. It is because of the sacrifice and willing to risk life and limb of those who were truly fighting for the little guy. Lest we forget.

A Good May Day To You

It’s May 1st. May Day. International Workers’ Day.

It always brings to mind the scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian where the revolutionary groups are discussing life under the Romans.

To paraphrase slightly: What have the unions ever done for us?

Modern May Day “celebrations” can be dated back to the late-19th century as a commemoration of Chicago’s Haymarket Massacre in 1886. Twelve people died (including 7 policemen) when a bomb was thrown during a labour demonstration that was held calling for an 8 hour workday.

How quaint. An 8 hour workday. What kind of starry-eyed idealists were these that believed such things possible? If there are those out there reading this who pay their rent/mortgage, put food on the table and are ready to finance their childrens’ university education, all on an 8 hour workday, raise your hands.

It’s one thing to ask to work only 8 hours a day/5 days a week but another thing entirely to expect to earn a proper living on it. For at least the last 30 years wages have stagnated for the middle class as it shrank in size, squeezed from both burgeoning top and bottom ends. Simply to maintain economic ground, most people have had to work longer and take on increasing amounts of debt.

Occurring simultaneously, union membership has fallen. In the United States, more than one-third of employed people belonged to unions in 1945. By 1979, union membership had fallen to 24.1 percent. Thirty years later, union workers only made up 12.3% of the work force.

A coincidence? Perhaps. We are not unaware of the fact that correlation does not imply causation. There have been many factors, oftentimes interrelated and interdependent, over the past 3 decades that have contributed to the growing fiscal imbalance between work and pay. Still, it is funny that in these days of economic struggle unions and those that belong to them are derided and dismissed as lazy fat cats, bloodsuckers and artifacts of the past.

Of course, May Day festivities and revels long pre-date unions and workers. They go back to pre-Christian, pagan seasonal rituals denoting the end of the long, dark winter in the northern hemisphere. According to Celtic legend, bonfires were set alight at strategically important sites to “mark a time of purification and transition”.

Maybe the time has come to meld the two traditions, modern and ancient. How be we burn some shit down to purify and transition to a more fair and equitable era? And then we can all dance happily around the Maypole.

revolutionarily submitted by Acaphlegmic