Reflections on Labor Day
, Executive Secretary-Treasurer
California Labor Federation
Labor Day is traditionally a time for workers to take a break from the daily grind to be honored for their contributions to our state and economy. But this past Labor Day, one in three workers were stuck on the job, many toiling for too little pay and fewer benefits like health care and retirement security. The irony of workers having to go to work on a day that honors them is symptomatic of the overarching problems facing our state.
We’ve seen a dramatic erosion of workers’ rights and living standards in recent years, thanks to decades of corporate manipulation of our economy. Our once vibrant middle class is on the decline as fewer jobs offer a living wage or benefits. Nowhere is the need for health care reform more acute than it is in California. One in five Californians has no health insurance, and those that do have it are paying too much for too little coverage.
Workers today work longer hours for fewer benefits and smaller paychecks than they did a generation ago, a trend that’s been exacerbated by Gov. Schwarzenegger’s slash-and-burn budgets. Recent cuts to education, infrastructure, public safety, health care and other vital services threaten to rip the very fabric of our state and lead us further into recession.
The corporate assault on unions has contributed heavily to the decline in middle class living standards. Corporations threaten, harass and intimidate workers who seek to join unions, resulting in fewer workers having the opportunity to bargain collectively with their employers for good wages and benefits. Corporate control of our economy and policies of deregulation have also taken a great toll on California. The collapse in the housing and financial industries fueled by corporate greed and shockingly little oversight was the spark that led to the raging inferno of recession we’re experiencing now.
It’s time for a new direction. Corporate policies are failing our families and our economy. We need to take the reins back from the CEOs and politicians they bankroll if we are going to be successful in rebuilding California’s middle class. We need to put an end to the slash-and-burn budget cuts that are scarring our state. We must reform labor law so that workers who want a union have a fair shot at forming one. And we must pass real health care reform that ensures California families get quality health care that reduces costs and expands coverage.
Over many generations, workers in California have built one of the most impressive economies history has ever known. The rest of the country has historically looked to California to lead the way on so many issues, including workers’ rights. This Labor Day, let’s honor the contributions of those before us and begin building a better future for the next generation of workers to follow.