Labor Day 2003: A tale of two worlds

News Analysis

“Why do workers struggle? Because they have to,” was a favorite refrain of former Maryland AFL-CIO President and Communist Party leader George Meyers. Working families have certainly been forced to struggle for jobs, better wages and benefits, civil rights and the right to organize a union this Labor Day.

Striking workers and their allies took to the streets in Chicago and New Haven, Conn., sitting down in civil disobedience for a fair contract with the Congress Hotel and Yale, respectively. Union members and activists marched and rallied against George W. Bush in Ohio and against the far-right Republican power grabs in California and Texas.

Between Sunday’s “Labor in the Pulpits” and the Monday Labor Day picnics and celebrations, “working America” heard religious and labor leaders call for the “freedom to organize unions,” lambaste the Bush administration for attempting to take away overtime pay and other anti-worker actions, and expose the callous, pro-corporate and pro-ultra-wealthy economic policies of the Bush team.

Rallies organized by unions and local coalitions for the “Freedom Riders,” highlighted the issues facing immigrant workers in America. The nationwide campaign by the Teamsters and UNITE to organize the Cintas laundry workers was also in the spotlight.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney told the Labor Day crowd in Cincinnati:

“As we come to Labor Day 2003, working America is facing a crisis. It’s a jobs crisis and it’s the number one issue facing Americans. Despite our so-called recovery, far too many people are out of work and many have been out of work for a long time …

“And executives are slashing health care and retirement benefits. President Bush has pulled the rug out from under America’s working people and rolled out a red carpet for the wealthy and giant corporations.

“There has been more net job loss under Bush than under any President since Herbert Hoover,” Sweeney said. “One Nobel prize winning economist recently called the Bush economic policies the worst in 200 years, adding that the Bush tax cuts that predominantly benefited a wealthy few will mean a 10-year budget deficit of nearly $6 trillion.”

Sweeney continued, “For the same money that Bush spent on millionaire tax breaks, he could have stimulated the economy and created jobs by building roads and schools, helped provide much-needed health care, sent urgently-needed aid to the states, and given tax breaks to the low and middle income earners who need it and will spend it to get the economy moving.”

Meanwhile, Bush promised “better days ahead,” following his scandalous tax give-aways to the very rich. Bush claims this new round of tax breaks will stimulate investment and therefore create jobs. But, Wall Street investment strategies are not about job creation, they are about making the highest rate of return (read: profit) possible. Now economic seers bandy about the term “jobless recovery” and working class families face skyrocketing unemployment with youth, women, African Americans and Latinos experiencing a disproportionate share.

Bush faces real re-election problems, especially in the traditional manufacturing states like Ohio, which he won in 2000 by only a few percentage points. Most of the close to three million jobs lost has been in manufacturing, which were higher paying jobs, more unionized, with significant numbers of Black and Latino workers.

Labor’s message this Labor Day is that the Bush administration’s Achilles heel is the economy and their empty rhetoric towards democracy and workers’ rights. In announcing plans to launch a nationwide organizing campaign, the AFL-CIO’s Sweeney told the American Political Association, Aug. 30, “The American system for joining or forming labor unions is broken and is weakening the nation’s democracy.” Citing employer intimidation as the main reason for the decrease in union membership, Sweeney said, the decline has not only hurt the economic well-being of both union and non-union workers, but has hurt democracy, as well, with a correlation between the decline in union membership and the decline in voter participation. The launching of a campaign to organize “Working America” goes hand-in-hand with labor’s push to organize what Sweeney called “the largest and earliest education and mobilization effort ever for the 2004 elections.”

Labor Day 2003 saw a renewed commitment by the labor movement to unite with allies and fight for the benefit of the majority of people against the narrow, far-right and monopoly corporate interests represented in the Bush administration.

Rosita Johnson and Jim Lane

contributed to this story. Terrie Albano is the editor of the People’s Weekly World and can be reached at