Associated Press Photo
As Labor Day approaches, let us remember not only to celebrate the resilience and bravery of the American working class (and of those around the world), but also to recognize the reasons we understand the value of organized labor and labor movements.
If it were not for the brilliance and commitment of labor movements throughout history, countless more people around the world today would still be working 12-hour shifts seven days a week in the most horrid, dangerous conditions.
If it were not for the endless efforts of organized labor, countless more children in factories around the world would still be exploited for work, treated essentially as agentless slaves.
If it were not for those unionists who throughout history have fought and died in the name of protecting and promoting the interests of laborers across the world, we would all be so much worse off than we already are.
All examples of progress on these fronts, along with countless others, are the result of the blood, sweat, tears and unwavering dedication of labor movements and those who chose to do their part for the Greater Good.
Accordingly, all contrasting examples of regression, oppression and exploitation of the masses on behalf of powerful capitalists and elitists represent losses in the labor movements.
Every step of the way, organized labor has been at war against the ruling class solidarity and systemic power of excessively wealthy capitalists and corporations. Where throughout history there has been a struggle of injustice, of exploitation, there too has been the red banner of organized labor waving in solidarity with the masses, the exploited. Where there has been a ruling class seeking to leech the essences of life out of the underclasses, there has been a people’s union willing to die fighting for what is right.
As West Virginians, we know this. We know the value of solidarity and the power of strength in numbers. We wear the label “rednecks” on our sleeves because we understand what happened at Paint Creek and at Cabin Creek and at Blair Mountain and even at the state capitol in recent years. In West Virginia, we value labor and unity and fighting for our brothers and sisters because it is all we ever have known. This struggle is in our blood. It is an essence of who we are as people, and who our people always have been. We understand this struggle is perpetual.
But we can’t always win.
Still today, far too many people around the world work long hours in grueling conditions for slave wages.
Far too many continue to be denied health care, benefits and fair wages for the profits they produce, as corporate CEO incomes climb off the charts.
Far too many remain helpless to escape the factories where they are forced to work from the time their bodies are physically capable.
Indeed, we still live in a world plagued with some of the worst injustices and inequality imaginable.
Even in America, where far too often we imagine that we have progressed past such extreme circumstances, so many still suffer unjustly. One would certainly be amiss to suggest that the American working class, as of today, is thriving—it is not.
But let us not forget that nearly all progress we have made as a collective society on behalf of the working people of the world and all the most vulnerable amongst us, has been made through the power of unity and strength in numbers—through labor unions, through protests, through strikes, through passionate, uncompromising organizing for what we know is right even in the faces of the very exploiters whose sole purpose is to convince us we are wrong, to club us into dank submission.
So, when we celebrate Labor Day, let us not forget that this truly is what we celebrate. We celebrate the most inspiring and ambitious instrument, the most effective mainspring by which the workers of the world may truly unite behind and fight for inherently shared values and interests in the face of constant oppression and the perpetual struggle for this thing we call Freedom.
We may not always win, but we never stop fighting. And that is how we know we will win again.
Perhaps American unionist, activist and founding member of the Industrial Workers of the World, Eugene V. Debs, has articulated this struggle most effectively: “Ten thousand times has the labor movement stumbled and fallen and bruised itself, and risen again; been seized by the throat and choked into insensibility; enjoined by courts, assaulted by thugs, charged by the militia, shot down by regulars, traduced by the press, frowned upon by public opinion, deceived by politicians, threatened by priests, repudiated by renegades, preyed upon by grafters, infested by spies, deserted by cowards, betrayed by traitors, bled by leeches, and sold out by leaders, but, notwithstanding all this, and all these, it is today the most vital potential power this planet has ever known, and its historic mission of emancipating the workers of the world from the thralldom of the ages is as certain of ultimate realization as the setting of the sun.”