It’s a historical fact that Labor Day was created to honor American workers, not the organized labor movement. But it didn’t take long for union leaders or their paid agents in elected office to co-opt the holiday as an opportunity to take credit for a laundry list of workplace innovations, including the 40-hour, five-day work week, paid vacations and stringent child labor laws.
Labor’s role in securing these accommodations during the dawn of the previous century, however, is very much open to debate.
What’s beyond debate is whether there’s anything remotely worthy of celebration in what modern labor unions have become.
Short answer — there isn’t, and Labor Day is a fitting occasion on which to be reminded of a painful reality with which millions of workers must contend every day.
According to the federal Department of Labor’s own website, the Labor Day holiday is “… dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country.”
Notice anything missing? For example, any mention of unions?
Perhaps that’s because lawmakers in 1894 had a clearer picture of the contributions of unions to the Industrial Age workplace than the version clouded by 138 years of revisionist history.
No one disputes that the working conditions of late-1800s were appalling, or that unions were outspoken in their opposition to long hours, low pay and unsafe practices. But it’s also undeniable that Henry Ford first standardized the work week on his assembly line at five days and 40 hours in 1926 — and he did so not because of union pressure but because he reasoned there would be a direct correlation between happy workers and increased productivity.
Other auto companies — and manufacturers in general — had little choice but to follow suit if they expected to compete in the free market.
Renowned economist Ludwig von Mises, a contemporary of Ford in the early- to mid-1900s, described the phenomenon succinctly. “In the capitalist society,” he observed, “there prevails a tendency toward a steady increase in the per capita quota of capital invested … Consequently, the marginal productivity of labor, wage rates and the wage earners’ standard of living tend to rise continually.”
In other words, it seems highly unlikely Congress would have declared a national holiday in 1894 to celebrate the unions’ role in the adoption of workplace improvements that weren’t introduced for another 32 years — and for which organized labor can take very little credit anyway.
Having thus dispensed with the myth that Labor Day was created to honor what unions were, we can turn now to the question of whether it’s in any way fitting to celebrate what they have become.
The answer is an even more resounding no.
With the advent of FDR’s New Deal in the 1930s, government began to grow exponentially — and with it the number and scope of workplace regulations with which employers are obliged to comply. Consequently, the need for unions to do anything other than negotiate contracts was reduced accordingly.
And with it, the number of union members.
From its peak of 34 percent in 1954, the percentage of unionized Americans has plummeted steadily to its current rate of 7 percent as members began to question what they were paying dues for.
But instead of responding by focusing on better serving its membership, unions branched out into politics, using the billions of dollars of dollars it confiscates annually from workers to support the whole panoply of liberal bad ideas.
To cite perhaps the most egregious example, the National Education Association (NEA) — by far the largest teachers’ union in America — last year spent more than $183 million on politics, but only $32 million went towards member representation.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The NEA spent another $71 million of its members’ money on salaries for union officers, plus an additional $56.5 million on benefits for those officers.
These figures don’t even include the non-staff attorneys, accountants and consultants, or even the $61 million spent just keeping the lights on in their gorgeous ivory palaces in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere around the country.
All told, of the $615 million NEA spent last year, the representation of its members accounted for a mere 5 percent — roughly what the average American family spends on its cell phone bill.
For this, they deserve an annual holiday?
In return for the $27 million in someone else’s dues lavished on his 2020 presidential campaign, Joe Biden has already enacted dozens of programs diverting billions of taxpayer dollars back to his union cronies, with more being proposed seemingly every day.
You’d think that would be tribute enough.