Labor unashamedly rated as just another resource

Another first Monday in September to signal the end of summer for most everyone here in the United States; while for a small minority of Americans, Labor Day continues to mark the annual set-aside time to pay tribute to the working men and women in the labor movement who so bravely fought to bring a measure of economic and social justice not just for the union rank and file, but for the rest of us who parasitically have benefited from their struggle.

As with other events in history which show duplicity in purpose, official establishment of a day to honor the contributions of working men and women to America’s way of life was signed into law by President Grover Cleveland in 1894; such enactment perhaps no more than a peace offering to labor in anticipation of congressional (1894) and presidential (1896) elections. Cleveland’s signing taking place a year after he had dispatched 12,000 federal troops and deputy marshals to Illinois to squelch a strike against the Pullman Palace Car Company… where strikers’ blood was mortally shed.

Our government, no matter whether headed by Republicans or by Democrats, is quick to remind us that Labor Day is not about labor unions, but only the “rootless” social and economic achievements of American workers as individuals… rarely as a group (trade unions), and never as a class (workers’ movement) . That is why America sets itself apart from much of the world that celebrates May 1, International Workers’ Day – the real Labor Day… as if the US did not have workers, only people who work. Let Europe, China and the rest of the world have their day, preferring to call their own American workers, as a group, the blue-collar middle class. Americans are constantly being asked to take pride in their Apartheidland, as the nation segregates itself from all those “viral ideologies,” the isms which are prevalent elsewhere in the world.

Is the “working class” another pejorative component of todays America? All indications seem to lead us to such a conclusion.

It was my good luck in graduate school to have a professor in labor-related studies whose doctoral dissertation at UC Berkeley had Jimmy Hoffa as principal subject. He knew the Teamsters’ leader well, on a personal level, and had a never-ending and most evocative collection of vignettes on his life; but more importantly, it was our esteemed professor’s narrative eloquence that we loved, as he paid tribute to Mr. Hoffa, not just as a remarkable leader, but as a greater authority on Transportation Economics than most specialized PhD-economists in the field; something particularly remarkable given this controversial labor figure came from the rank and file and lacked formal education.

Perhaps what was salient with both our professor and his presentation of the subject matter – labor law and labor relations – was his contrast to the contemptible way in which the labor movement was being portrayed then – as it is now – in the nation’s business schools; aggravated in this particular case by the fact Jimmy Hoffa was then serving a 15-year prison sentence for attempted bribery of a grand juror. [He would be released from prison by President Nixon three years later (1971); then disappeared (1975) to add to the folklore of union bosses and mafia dons].

An unusual and refreshing approach so contrary to the pejorative treatment of the labor movement! Nonetheless, this professor was just a distant, small point of light in an otherwise dark universe of higher studies which prepared the new MBA-centurions to carry on with the capitalist mission after being assigned to the many global legions representing International Wealth.

Since my training days as a centurion for the capitalist cause, I have seen union labor in the United States decrease from almost 30 percent of the labor force to less than 13 percent today… and that decrease has been followed, if to a much lesser degree, by other industrialized nations, except for some northern European countries that continue to maintain a social soul. As globalization took deep roots in the last two decades, the labor movement in the first world ceased to move forward, doing it only in retreat.

And, very appropriately to the transformation taking place, the “personnel department” became, what else… but the “human resources department.”

To our shame here in America, corporations maintain the legal rights of the individual – while yielding enormous influence via their wealth and power – yet, the worker has been relegated to be just another resource… less valuable than materials, far less valuable than technology, and thousands-fold less valuable than the top management in charge. So much for what we think of labor in these United States of America!

Monday, here in America, we are celebrating the end of summer… and in this recession year, also the sad realization that America is no longer the vibrant nation that it was when labor had a voice, if small, as to how the nation should be ran.