On Monday, September 3, millions of Americans will celebrate Labor Day. For most, it will mean nothing more than the unofficial end of summer, a weekend for one last barbeque, campout, or trip to the beach. However,according to the United States Department of Labor, the day represents, “a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well being of our country."
For a holiday little more than a century old, Labor Day’s origins are surprisingly opaque. Some say that Peter McGuire, co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, was the first to propose such a holiday. Other records indicate that it was another McGuire, named Matthew, who came up with the idea in 1882 when he was secretary of New York’s Central Labor Union. Whatever the truth, the first Labor Day celebration was held in New York City on September 5 of that year. By 1894, the United States Congress had passed legislation recognizing the first Monday in September as Labor Day.
Unfortunately, as one might expect from a holiday that sprung from the brow of organized labor, Labor Day celebrations all too often degrade into a celebration of unions rather than individual workers, the vast majority of whom, after all, are not members of a union.
And for good reason -- unions have a long history of taking advantage of their members by, among other things, forcibly collecting dues which labor bosses then spend on political activities, regardless of whether union members support the candidates and policies endorsed by the union. No wonder union membership in the United States has plummeted from 20.1 percent in 1983 to 11.8 percent in 2011.
In fact, it is the coercive nature of modern unionism makes it so offensive to the sensibilities of a free people. According to a new Heritage Foundation study (“Unelected Unions: Why Workers Should Be Allowed to Choose Their Representatives”), only 7 percent of private-sector union members have actually voted to join their union:
“The remaining 93 percent are automatically represented by a union they had no say in electing,” notes author James Sherk. “The United Auto Workers (UAW), which organized General Motors’ Michigan factories in 1937, is a case in point. Michigan does not have a right-to-work law, so union-represented workers must pay the union's dues or get fired. General Motors’ current employees never had the chance to vote for or against the UAW. UAW representation was a non-negotiable condition of their employment."
This Labor Day, you won’t see union bosses acknowledging the fact that they force workers into arrangements made by other people decades earlier.
Nor will they openly celebrate the union-negotiated government employee contracts that are busting state and local budgets across the country, forcing politicians to raise taxes, cut essential government services, or both (though some brave souls, like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, are choosing a third path by reforming and restructuring their government’s relationship with its workforce).
And you certainly won’t hear anything about the fact that teachers’ unions’ stranglehold on public education protect lazy and incompetent educators to the detriment of students languishing in our failing schools.
No, you won’t hear about these union contributions to our society at Labor Day parades, this or any other year. But you should.
If individual workers really want to do something to celebrate their day, they should do what millions have already done -- opt out of union membership altogether. If opting out is not an option, then agitate for that choice; lobby for the freedom to choose with whom you associate.
True, such rights are already guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. I guess unions didn’t get the memo.
Matt Patterson is Executive Director, Center for Worker Freedom, at Americans for Tax Reform. You may contact Matt at Mpatterson@atr.org