On Labor Day 2012, the American work force faces persistent high unemployment and a concentration of wealth and economic power not seen since the first Labor Day in 1894. That year, President Grover Cleveland signed a bill, S. 730, introduced in the United States and passed by the 53rd Congress, making Labor Day a legal holiday. In that Gilded Age, America was in the midst of an economic depression, a growing concentration of corporate wealth and power, and suppression of labor unions. Just six day before signing the Labor Day legislation, the President ordered federal troops to end the Pullman Strike between labor unions and railroads protesting deep wage cuts leaving more than 30 workers dead and the strike’s leader, Eugene V. Debs, in jail.
Today, the rate of union membership is under 12 percent, the lowest in more than 70 years. This trend is driven by some employers and state governments. Since 2010, legislatures in dozens of states including Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin have restricted collective bargaining rights, pass so-called “right-to-work” laws, and made it more difficult for unions to collect dues. Anti-labor politicians use the economic downturn to scapegoat workers and their unions, reinforcing the increasing concentration of wealth, reducing the purchasing power needed to revive the economy and denying workers a voice in their workplaces. With the decline of unions and the increased flow corporate money into politics after Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 US 50, (2010), the wealthy have more influence than ever over public policy and legislation even though the Supreme Court equated the electioneering speech conducted by labor unions and corporations
For more on the history of Labor Day, see the US Department of Labor website. Happy Labor Day, everyone!