BTS 9/4/06: Labor Day

Listen: Introduction - Andy Stern - Kate Bronfenbrenner / Dan Clawson - Rick Eiden - Paulina Gonzalez

Today is Labor Day -- which in the US has a curious history. In 1882 the Knights of Labor organized a parade to honor the working class in NYC. It was repeated in 1884 and the Knights pressed to make it an annual event. Then in May 1886 the titanic struggle between labor and capital came to a head in Haymarket Square, Chicago at a workers rally for the eight hour day. A bomb was thrown just as a police contingent approached the square, eventually killing eight policemen. Eight activists were tried and four of them went to the gallows singing the workingmen’s anthem. The trial gained worldwide attention for the labor movement, and initiated the tradition of “May Day” labor rallies in many cities around the world. In the US, President Grover Cleveland feared that a May 1 Labor Day would strengthen the socialist movement, so the first Monday in September was selected to reject any identification with Haymarket, syndicalism and socialism. Except for Canada and the US, the rest of the world celebrates May 1 as Labor Day, commemorating workers strength and remembering the Haymarket martyrs.

Unfortunately, this Labor Day workers have little to celebrate. Wages and salaries now make up the smallest share of the GDP since the government began tracking it in 1947. Meanwhile, corporate profits have risen to their highest share since the 1960s. While wages have declined by 2 percent since 2003, productivity has been rising, so workers are doing more work and making less money. A record 46.6 million people in the U.S. have no health insurance, a majority of them working people. A recent poll found that “The public thinks that workers were better off a generation ago than they are now on every key dimension of workers’ life.”

On tonight’s program we welcome Andy Stern, President of the SEIU – the most dynamic of today’s unions – to discuss the state of American labor and the unfulfilled promises of the American Dream. Then Kate Bronfenbrenner and Dan Clawson join us to discuss the key issues facing labor today.

And finally we talk about two local labor struggles: the first about the Stop Albertsons Campaign. Albertsons is attempting to get rid of its unionized workforce by closing down, opening up under a new name with a new non-union workforce; and we’ll hear about the Hotel Workers Campaign at LAX. We speak to Rick Eiden, Executive Vice- President, UFCW Local 324 about Albertsons and then Paulina Gonzalez, organizer with UNITE-HERE about the Hotel workers.

Read More for info on tonight's guests:

1. Andy Stern is the president of the Service Employees International Union, the largest and fastest-growing union in the United States and Canada. One of the co-founders of the New Unity Partnership, Stern publicly suggested his and other unions would split from the AFL-CIO if it failed to make major organizational changes. The SEIU and six other unions split from the AFL-CIO and formed the Change to Win coalition in 2005.

2. Kate Bronfenbrenner is Director of Labor Education Research at the New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University. She worked for many years as an organizer with the United Woodcutters Association in Mississippi and the Service Employees International Union in Boston. She is the author, co-author and editor of numerous books and articles on union strategies.

3. Dan Clawson is Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is the author of Bureaucracy and the Labor Process and past editor of Contemporary Sociology.