The right ways to honor Labor Day
Labor Day is an American federal holiday that celebrates the economic and social contributions of workers. On this Labor Day the American worker is in trouble.
Recently, The Post and Courier has published numerous articles about the middle class and its struggles. One person who used to make $80,000 ($38 an hour) a year is now making $9.15 an hour with no benefits. People are having a tough time paying for food. Unemployment benefits are being cut. Our tax base is shrinking and services are being cut at a time when more people need them.
Employers feel they don’t need to give anyone a raise when there are so many unemployed. Production is up, and many employees while only getting paid for 40 hours a week are bringing work home with them. When the American worker is in trouble our country is in trouble. In recent years we have seen the American Dream of working hard and being able to pay your bills, have health insurance, send your kids to college, and save for retirement become a thing of the past. Now it is all about corporations making more and more money, CEOs making absurd amounts of money, and little respect or dignity shown to the middle-class Americans. I feel for what we are leaving our children. I was reading a book about labor and the church and came across the Program of Social Reconstruction drafted in 1919 by John Ryan, which pointed out that laborers should put in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. The program ended with these words which, although written in 1919, are relevant in today’s world, especially with all the talk of us being a Christian nation.
“The capitalist must likewise get a new viewpoint. He needs to learn the long forgotten truth that wealth is stewardship, that profit-making is not the basic justification of business enterprise, and that there are such things as fair profits, fair interest, and fair prices. Above all, he must cultivate and strengthen within his mind the truth ... that the laborer is a human being, not merely an instrument of production, and that the laborer’s right to a decent livelihood is the first moral charge upon industry. The employer has a right to a reasonable living out of his business. But he has no right to interest on his investment until his employees have obtained at least living wages. This is human and Christian in contrast to the purely commercial and pagan, ethics of industry.”
Here’s another quote, from the Progressive party convention in 1912. Theodore Roosevelt said:
“We stand for a living wage. Wages are subnormal if they fail to provide a living for those who devote their time and energy to industrial occupation. The monetary equivalent of a living wage varies according to local conditions, but must include enough to secure the elements of a normal standard of living — a standard high enough to make morality possible, to provide for education and recreation, to care for immature members of the family, to maintain the family during periods of sickness and to permit of reasonable saving for old age.”
I think that on Labor Day we should remember that all work has dignity and that work connects us all. We live in a beautiful part of the country that gets much of its money from tourism. The restaurants and hotels have a lot of workers who make them successful who are behind the scenes. They work hard yet their wages are low. The bus drivers, sanitation workers, maids, maintenance workers, dishwashers, janitors and many more, deserve decent wages.
These and all workers should be treated with fair pay, dignity and respect.
Today, if you are out and about, thank the workers that you come in contact with and a special thanks to our military, teachers, police officers, firefighters and nurses.
Another way to honor the workers in this country would be to vote in legislators who will raise the minimum wage.
Let’s fight to keep a middle class in this country.
Erin McKee is president of the Charleston Central Labor Council.