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The Month of Labor—September

Labor Day – 3 September 2018

The first Labor Day was celebrated 136 years ago on a Tuesday, September 5, 1882 at a time when working people took their grievances to the street, and their organizations embodied that spirit.

Rank and file workers have begun to remind us that through organizing, victory is possible. 39,000 Verizon workers ended a 45-day strike that forced their predatory company to back off out-sourcing call center jobs. 40,000 Chrysler workers forced their leaders in the UAW back to the table to negotiate a path to standard wages for members subject to Tier 2 wages. Labor is not dead.

This year there are echoes of that spirit in the teachers’ fight for livable wages and better schools in Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, and North Carolina. These are predominately Republican Party-controlled, conservative states. The strikes have been referred to as the “Red State Revolt.” Teachers are taking to the streets and protesting not only for salary boosts, but also for additional school funding, racial justice, gender equality and gun control.

Missouri workers defeated a right-to-work ballot proposition in August. The coordinated effort by labor leaders and shoe leather on the street from the rank and file produced a lopsided result in favor of workers: 67% no and 33% yes out of 1,389,316 votes cast. Since only 8.7% of employed Missouri workers are union, it’s clear that the wave that swept through Missouri in this fight included far more than union members.

Down I-5 in Portland, Burgerville fast food workers got organized by the IWW. In the past two years other fast food workers have walked out of their restaurants to demand a pay raise to $15 per hour and the right to unionize. Also in Portland, temp workers for the Metro regional government partnered with 15 Now Portland to win major increases in a first contract through AFSCME Local 3580.

The Thurston Lewis Mason Labor Council will hail Labor Day this year with a picnic at Pioneer Park in Tumwater. We will celebrate our holiday with shouts for organizing many who turn the wheels of the economic system. We will be proud to demand our equal share, and justice for those who do not have justice.

These examples show a worker groundswell from below, inclusive and running counter to the status quo thinking and advice of institutionalized Labor, and Environmental organizations. It will take a Movement from Below to overturn the dominant One-Percenters wielding their financial grip, state-sponsored surveillance, and law enforcement in order to control our country and its workers.

Labor could support such a movement, turning its organizations toward the fight for a new racial equality, the new “illegal” immigrants, and yes, even the so-called Patriot Army of Trump, who are really fellow workers who have no sense of their radical working-class heritage. Alexander Cockburn took note of these Patriots in The Nation, back in June 1995; “these young workers should be getting decent radical analysis and some respectful attention”. Perhaps the new Labor groundswell will learn and employ the models presented by the Occupy Movement, or the swift tactical methods of those who in 5 days shook the world when the WTO met in Seattle in 1999. New times require new thinking, organization and action.

Mark Bean was born and raised on Olympia’s Westside

Janine Gates / Little Hollywood Media
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