Labor Day: Build esprit de corps for action

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This is one day devoted to labor, to the middle class, to the majority. One day out of 365. On this holiday, everyone gives an obligatory nod to workers. So don’t fret this Labor Day. Don’t waste it away in apathetic doldrums. Don’t let the minority rich and their purchased politicians take this celebration away from us, too. 

Some, including former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, have called for protests on Labor Day. They say workers must use this opportunity to demand that Washington solve the real crisis debilitating this country – dogged joblessness.   

Reich is right. But it’s too early for that. Ultimately, workers must flip this ugly situation upside down so that once a year it’s Rich People’s Day. Once a year, the middle class gives the frivolous Kardashians and tax-shirking GEs of the world an obligatory nod. But every other day, 364 days a year, is labor day.

Then, we would have a country committed to the well-being of the majority, the middle class, the workers whose labor creates wealth.

Getting there is a long haul from where we are now, though. We must develop some self-confidence before we start protesting. Achieving the change we want requires an uprising of hope and anger. There’s plenty of anger out there. The populace is seething after suffering years of “no, not-for-you” politics from country club conservatives:

No more unemployment insurance extensions. No more Social Security and Medicare as you and your parents know it. No public option, providing health insurance for all. No end to tax breaks for corporations that off-shore jobs. No more Trade Adjustment Assistance for workers who lose their jobs because of off-shoring. No end to tax breaks for corporate jets. No end to tax breaks for oil companies making billions. No end to income tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires. No extension of the payroll tax break for the middle class. No reasonable restrictions on the big Wall Street banks that got bailed out with taxpayer money. No help for unemployed homeowners threatened with foreclosure. And no, there won’t be any jobs program. The country club conservatives must sustain high unemployment to regain the White House. So too bad for the jobless.

These unremitting attacks on the middle class have left workers feeling beaten up and beaten down. Workers are suffering from what author, psychologist and social critic Bruce E. Levine calls “battered people syndrome.”  Exhausted, depressed, and blaming themselves for the country’s problems, too many workers feel unable to challenge the elite overlords.

Frances Fox Piven counsels in her book, Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America that hope is crucial, that constructive change arises from the mix of hope and anger. In places like Libya and Egypt this Arab Spring, wealth proved insufficient to overpower the majority invigorated by hope and anger.

The bitch for the rich in a democracy like America’s is that the majority rules. And, frankly, the rich and corporations (newly dubbed persons by the U.S. Supreme Court) are a tiny minority in America.

Even though we’re the majority, workers can’t win until we hope we can, until we feel some assurance that we can overcome.

It’s a long haul to hope from resignation and pessimism.

So let’s put some effort into fostering optimism. Rile yourself up and pump up a friend this Labor Day so we can unite in anger and hope to push back the naysayers and make every day Labor Day. This video helps.

Leo W. Gerard is international president of the United Steelworkers (USW).

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