I’ve been walking in the Labor Day parade here in St. Louis since I can remember. I come from a union family and as a union member and activist, I’ve always felt compelled to spend this holiday with fellow workers; with operating engineers, with mechanics, plumbers, pipefitters, sheet metal workers, communications workers, electrical workers, teamsters, service employees, government employees. In fact, with all types of workers, brown, black and white, male and female, young and old.

In St. Louis we have a pretty large Labor Day parade. Union members start lining up at 6 a.m. even though the parade doesn’t start until 9 a.m. They mingle, talk, catch-up with friends, circulate and sign petitions, and do what unions do – provide a venue for ordinary, working-class folks to make a better life for themselves and their children. After the parade most unions set-up shop and bar-b-q, drink a few beers and enjoy good times and good company.

In St. Louis union density is around 24 percent. If you include union families and retirees, we’re talking about a real chunk of the voting population. So when labor says jump in St. Louis, most politicians ask one question: ‘How high.’ In fact, Republicans don’t even bother running in St. Louis. Additionally, when we have our Labor Day parade the city shuts down – besides, of course, all of the union members and their families.

This particular Labor Day parade held special significance though. Along with the organizations collecting signatures for the health care public option, for single payer, for clean energy and green jobs, just to name a few, there was also a vibrancy, a energy, a excitement in the air. The parade felt a little different this year. It was like one big rallying cry as thousands and thousands of union members chanted, ‘What do we want? Health Care! When do we want it? Now! ,‘ and ‘Hay, hay, ho, ho, corporate greed has got to go.’

What does all of this have to do with Abraham Lincoln, you may be asking? Well, President Lincoln once remarked, “”Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

Wow! I wonder if President Lincoln was red-baited or called a communist. There’s plenty to bait. In fact, he had a very open and public correspondence with Karl Marx, the father of the communist movement.

I wonder if his words met with the same vile, out-right lies that President Obama and our labor movement confront today. I wonder if the Chamber of Commerce – or whatever pro-business institutions existed then – pooled their resources and invested tens-of-millions in a propaganda war to confuse, divide and break-off workers from their natural ally, the labor movement. I wonder if they called it their “Armageddon,” as the Chamber of Commerce calls the Employee Free Choice Act.

Back then the business community, the captains of industry, the banking and financial trusts, claimed that putting an end to child labor would ruin the economy. They claimed safety and work rules, regular shifts, disability, unemployment and retiree benefits were unreasonable requests. They claimed racism and sexism were the natural order of things. In fact, they claimed workers were just plain crazy to expect anything different.

They were wrong then. And they are wrong now.

The current financial captains know Lincoln was right. They know nothing moves without labor; without the operating engineers, the mechanics, plumbers, pipefitters, sheet metal workers, communications workers, electrical workers, teamsters, service employees, government employees, etc.

They know capitol is dependent on labor. And it is because of this knowledge that they are fighting like hell to keep the Employee Free Choice Act from becoming reality.

They know unions build class consciousness and educate workers on their own self-interests. And when they get organized they have the power to change the world.

They know that once union density reaches a threshold their parasitic lives will be changed forever.

In fact, they know the only answer they’ll have is, ‘How high.’




Tony Pecinovsky
Tony Pecinovsky

Tony Pecinovsky is the author of "Let Them Tremble: Biographical Interventions Marking 100 Years of the Communist Party, USA" and author/editor of "Faith In The Masses: Essays Celebrating 100 Years of the Communist Party, USA." His forthcoming book is titled "The Cancer of Colonialism: W. Alphaeus Hunton, Black Liberation, and the Daily Worker, 1944-1946." Pecinovsky has appeared on C-SPAN’s "Book TV" and speaks regularly on college and university campuses across the country.