Labor Day is over, but E.J. Dionne’s Labor Day column at The Washington Post still resonates.
Dionne writes: “We may still celebrate Labor Day, but our culture has given up on honoring workers as the real creators of wealth and their honest toil — the phrase itself seems antique — as worthy of genuine respect.”
Imagine a Republican saying this: “Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”
These heretical thoughts would inspire horror among our friends at Fox News or in the Tea Party. They’d likely label them as Marxist, socialist or Big Labor propaganda. Too bad for Abraham Lincoln, our first Republican president, who offered those words in his annual message to Congress in 1861. Will President Obama dare say anything like this in his jobs speech this week?
Dionne is always willing to use history, religion and theology in his columns. Here he draws on both Lincoln and Pope John Paul:
So it would take a brave man to point out that unions “grew up from the struggle of the workers — workers in general but especially the industrial workers — to protect their just rightselement of social life.” vis-a-vis the entrepreneurs and the owners of the means of production,” or to insist that “the experience of history teaches that organizations of this type are an indispensable
That’s what Pope John Paul II said (the italics are his) in the 1981 encyclical “Laborem Exercens.” Like Lincoln, John Paul repeatedly asserted “the priority of labor over capital.”
That the language of Lincoln and John Paul is so distant from our experience today is a sign of an enormous cultural shift. In scores of different ways, we paint investors as the heroes and workers as the sideshow. We tax the fruits of labor more vigorously than we tax the gains from capital — resistance to continuing the payroll tax cut is a case in point — and we hide workers away while lavishing attention on those who make their livings by moving money around.
He also references Jefferson Cowie’s prize-winning book history of the labor in the 1970s: Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class.