Labor Day 2005

Asked in June to take the pulse of his members, neighbors and friends, Ohio autoworker union leader Lloyd McHaffrey replied, “Everybody’s uneasy.”

On Labor Day weekend, that mood has shifted from unease to anxiety.

New job creation is limping. The Economic Policy Institute reports that most new jobs touted by the Bush administration are in the military sector. Manufacturing continues to hemorrhage and even the financial sector is stagnant at best. Information technology jobs are shaky.

No section of the economy is immune from the brutal experience of manufacturing workers who have lost not only their jobs, but their pensions, health care and communities. The Rust Belt is the pebble dropped in the pond, rippling slowly across the entire body of water.

As summer ends, working families are working longer and harder, but the paychecks just aren’t big enough to deal with the mortgage or rent, groceries, health care, utilities, taxes, insurance, transportation and child care. In a study released Sept. 1, EPI found that 14 million people who go to work every day in the richest country in the world do not make enough money to pay the basic bills.

Such statistics help people see they are not alone when they lose sleep worrying whether their name will be on the work schedule next week, when they have to rob Peter to pay Paul.

Let’s make this Labor Day a time to build, out of that growing understanding, a united movement that storms the halls of power on behalf of America’s working families.

Why can’t the federal government dramatically raise the minimum wage? How about enacting the health-care-for-all bill, HR 676? In the wake of Katrina, put millions to work in meaningful jobs rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure. And pass the Employee Free Choice Act to protect and advance the rights of workers to join a union and bargain for a contract. Those measures alone would give a big boost to the bleak jobs picture.

“Agitate, agitate, agitate,” said T. Thomas Fortune, an early 20th century civil rights leader. To that add: organize, organize, organize — and seize the wealth you have created.