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Remember the "Labor" in Labor Day

Ah... a nice long weekend to close out the Summer. But which holiday is it? Memorial Day? President's Day?Labor_Day.jpg

As we are all stuffing our facing and enjoying an extra day off, remember to thank the labor unions for many things we take for granted today: the 40-hour work week, overtime pay, vacation pay, sick days, workers compensation and an (almost) living wage.

Not to mention the Labor Day Holiday.

Remember that union workers fought and died for these basic rights back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. If it weren't for labor unions negotiating decent conditions, which raised living standards and enabled the middle class to exist, non-union wages would be much lower than they are now as well. Remember that next you complain about the unions bankrupting America.

In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists, finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues, and funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views. Given this reality, it's important to have institutions that can act as counterweights to the power of big money. And unions are among the most important of these institutions.

You don't have to love unions, or believe that their policy positions are always right, to recognize that they are among the few influential players in our political system representing the interests of middle- and working-class Americans, as opposed to the wealthy. Indeed, if America has become more oligarchic and less democratic over the last 30 years - which it has - that is, in part, due to the decline of private-sector unions.

Ever since Ronald Reagan began his war on the middle class, union representation has greatly diminished, and along with it the average wages of most Americans. It used to be that decent health care, vacation time and retirement benefits were considered a basic right of working Americans; they still are in the other industrialized democracies (which also have universal healthcare and less concentration of wealth). It is very strange that, instead of recognizing that the benefits of state workers should be considered our standard, people consider these benefits "entitlements."

You may go back to enjoying your long weekend now. Oh, and you're welcome.