Labor Day, 2020


Labor Day: it’s not about the sales

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 Labor Day is a celebration of the millions of workers who keep the United States running. But the more detailed history paints a picture of how difficult working conditions were during the Industrial Revolution and why, especially now, it’s vital to advocate for workers’ and union rights. 

Working conditions have greatly improved in the United States since the 19th century, but we still have a long way to go before all workers are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. Sadly, things are only getting worse for laborers and unions.

“All other holidays are in a more or less degree connected with conflicts and battles of man’s prowess over man, of strife and discord for greed and power, of glories achieved by one nation over another,” said Samuel Gompers, founder of the American Federation of Labor. “Labor Day…is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation.”

First Person Account: What Work is Really Like

Photo by Bill Yund

See that thing there that looks distorted and split like an overcooked wienie? it was maybe 60’ high and 4’ in diameter, made of 1 1/4” thick stainless steel. It blew up. It was one of 3 “disaster rebuild” jobs I worked on while in the field. I was the foreman on 2. In three decades in our trade I worked on power plants, grease plants, chemical plants, nuke facilities, mills, underground steam pipes, schools, hospitals, sky scrapers, hotels, sewerage plants and more. Outside, inside, high, low, hot, freezing, in town, out of town…Heat and Frost..

At times I got burned, gassed, gashed and stitched. Some jobs were toxic and filthy, some were fun and clean. It was always interesting. I worked with some super people. Four men died on four different jobs where I’d worked over the years, and some others were injured. Six good members of our Trade died (with others) in a coke plant explosion a couple years after I began in the business. I wasn’t there. I was lucky.

The people who worked in the plant where that cracking tower in the photo blew were really lucky. It exploded between shifts. The night shift had just left and the day shift was still inside getting ready to go out. 20 minutes one way or the other would’ve meant boom (no pun) time for local funeral homes. A heavy manhole cover had ripped off it’s bolts and was found nearly 1/4 mile away. The plant had formerly blocked outside contractors, insisting on doing their own maintenance. They weren’t very good at it. The place was a mess (same thing with one of the other disaster rebuilds). When that tower blew, they had an awakening (and insurance money) and brought in union building trades to make things right (same thing again).

We were there for months, not just for the new tower but for other very overdue and neglected work. The engineer loved us, the plant workers didn’t and did their best to make us unwelcome. A few years later I was partnered with one of the guys who’d been on that job and we were working a few miles downriver. On the way home one day we revisited the site. The gate was chained and locked, parts of the plant had been scrapped, and we saw deer foraging on the weeds and brush that were taking over.It was a great career, and I worked through a great and democratic Union Local.

I was lucky. Be careful out there. Go home safe. Happy Labor Day. ~ by Bill Yund

Here’s another 1st person story from Bill Yund: Click Here


According to Wikipedia, “Labor Day is a federal holiday in the United States celebrated on the first Monday in September to honor and recognize the American labor movement and the works and contributions of laborers to the development and achievements of the United States. It is the Monday of the long weekend known as Labor Day Weekend. Canada’s Labor Day is also celebrated on the first Monday of September.”

With Labor Day weekend beginning for both the United States and Canada at the conclusion of work today, this year’s celebration has a completely different tone and implication. With the global pandemic causing over 30 million Americans initially losing their employment, and the unemployment rate doubling to nearly 14% in Canada (between February and April). The meaning of this holiday has shifted from celebration to either thankfulness to be gainfully employed, and pity for those that have themselves or know loved ones that have lost their jobs.

Not since the Great Depression have North Americans faced such a dramatic economic crisis. The unemployment rate in the United States has averaged at approximately 5.76% from 1948 until 2020, until it reached an all-time high of 14.70% in April. The lowest rate during this time was at 2.5% in May 1953.

Today the U.S. Labor Department released its jobs report which indicated that the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 8.4% in August. This marks the fourth consecutive month of declines, but the employment expansion is slowing. Last month the United States added 1.4 million jobs which was 300,000 less than the previous month. However, even with the recent improvement there is a large caveat and warning issued by economists.

According to Politico, “Economists warn the labor market may well have grown weaker since the report was conducted, however. Many expect further layoffs through the fall especially if Congress fails to pass further stimulus relief, as an expected drop in consumer spending, the expiration of a small business relief program and other factors could spur a wave of business closures across the country.”

There is also another side effect to the global pandemic, for some it equates to permanent loss of jobs. Given that nearly 30 million Americans have lost their occupation during this l pandemic, for some their fate is even more dire. Their jobs are going away forever. It is estimated that 2.9 million jobs initially earmarked for temporary layoffs have become permanent cuts.

Betsey Stevenson, a former chief economist at the Labor Department and a member of the Council of economic advisers during the Obama administration said, “This recession has been really confused, because what we had was really a suppression where we told everybody to stay home — and that wasn’t really job loss. The real question is, when you end the suppression, how many jobs are left? And boy, it sure looks like we lost a whole lot of jobs.”

The net result of the global pandemic has changed the meaning of the Labor Day holiday. For those fortunate enough to still be gainfully employed any celebration must contain an enormous amount of empathy and sympathy for those individuals less fortunate. Because this holiday weekend will most certainly have a sobering and somber aspect for those individuals who are still unable to find employment.

One suggestion might be that those of us who are fortunate enough to still be gainfully employed perform one act of random kindness to those less fortunate than us.

Wishing you as always good trading and good health,By Gary Wagner

Contributing to kitco.com


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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes:

“Long ago we stated the reason for labor organizations. We said that they were organized out of the necessities of the situation; that a single employee was helpless in dealing with an employer… that if the employer refused to pay him the wages he thought fair, he was nevertheless unable to leave the employ and resist arbitrary and unfair treatment; [the] union was essential to give laborers opportunity to deal on an equality with their employer.” MORE…

Commentary: Labor Day 2020: Workers need power

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In July, the U.S. unemployment rate stood just above 10%, down from a more-than-70-year high of 14.7% in April. More than 51 million people have filed for unemployment benefits, over 16 million lost employer-provided health insurance and 26 million are hungry. Read More….

‘The Workingman’: Labor all should honor

Labor Day was once the nation’s most blatantly political national holiday — created by the trade-union movement to celebrate the right of working people to bargain collectively and to stage strikes to press their demands.

The (New York) Post was an early and vigorous supporter of the movement. As early as 1836, editor William Cullen Bryant wrote: “Strike the right of associating for the sale of labor from the privileges of a freeman, and you may as well at once bind him to a master.” Read the Poem Here.

On Labor Day, labor unions work to pass HEROES Act | Commentary

Labor Day 2020, like no other in our nation’s history, is absent of parades and large gatherings. Canceled due to COVID-19, celebrations are replaced with Zoom meetings that commemorate the American worker as we all hope better days are ahead.

Traditionally on Labor Day, union leaders boast of accomplishments of the unions of the past. Black-and-white imagery of the 40-hour workweek and child labor laws are reminiscent of rights taken for granted in a boring historical documentary — although today’s union movement is far from boring. With our divided nation at a standstill, the importance of America’s workforce has developed a new narrative and found fresh energy, evolving loudly since 2016. Continued…..

This Labor Day, unions face new pressures and possibilities due to COVID-19

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“We’re hearing from non-union firms because they don’t really have anyone advocating for them,” said Wendell Young, president of UFCW Local 1776, which represents 35,000 Pennsylvania workers at grocery stores, meatpacking plants and pharmacies. Read More…

Let’s set the record straight on unions this Labor Day

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On Labor Day We Ask What Is The Truth Of The Economy When Things Are So Strange?

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