Labor Day is for all of us. On Labor Day we do not honor just one great individual, or one specific group. On Labor Day we pause to honor ourselves, the working men and women who keep this nation going and our heroes of the past who fought--and sometimes died--for the rights and benefits that we take for granted.
Labor Day is truly the holiday for all of us--butcher, baker, candlestick maker, as well as nurse, construction worker, police officer, janitor and every other wage earner.
And it would be a shame for the people of America, a nation with a great labor tradition, to lose sight of the significance of this day.
One hundred and four years after the first Labor Day parade, organized labor has won its victories and taken its lumps, especially in recent years. So be it. We've never been afraid to do battle with those in society who begrudge working men and women every dollar that they earn.
But there is one charge that has been hurled at the union movement that I cannot tolerate. There is one criticism that enrages me because it attempts to rewrite history and constitutes--let me say it bluntly--a lie.
The charge is that organized labor is but another of our country's "special interests."
In present-day political discourse, accusing your opponent of being captive of or associated with a "special interest" has become standard rhetoric. This accusation was especially popular during the recent debate on the tax-reform bill when even working-class homeowners were referred to as a special interest because they wanted to keep the deduction for their mortgage interest.
Now, if you have the effrontery, the unmitigated gall, to seek to band together with your fellow workers to protect your pay, your health, indeed your very ability to put bread on your family's table, you are part of the dreaded special interest known as "organized labor."
The interest of organized labor has been the interest of working men and women everywhere, union members or not. The battles that we have fought over the past 100 years, but especially in the last 50, have gained a standard of living for the average American that he or she could not even have dreamed of previously.
You don't even have to be a union member to enjoy the fruits of the labor movement's accomplishments:
If you take your eight-hour day for granted, remember that organized labor won that.
If you work a 40-hour (or less) week, don't forget that we achieved that, too.
If you are a Social Security beneficiary, remember that organized labor fought long and hard for that system, and still fights to preserve it.
If you are a member of a racial or religious minority, you should know that the unions were in the thick of the fight for the landmark civil-rights legislation of the 1960s.
Special interest? My father, who was the president of the Sheet Metal Workers' International Assn. for 25 years, negotiated some of the earliest health-and-welfare and pension plans in the trade-union movement. He thought that workers and their families deserved adequate health care and a retirement with dignity and security. Is anybody out there naiveenough to believe that health and pension plans are so widespread today, even among non-union employers, because of the goodness of the corporate heart?
Working for the rights and the dignity of those who earn their daily bread through their labor does not make us a "special interest." Neither does working to achieve a better life for all Americans. We are not outside the mainstream of society; we are the mainstream of society.
So on this Labor Day, like every other day, Americans should remember that their lives are better because of the labor movement. We should all pause to remember those who gave their blood, sweat and tears for a fair and just society, one that gives all Americans the opportunity to share the bounty of this great nation. Labor unions have helped make America a better, stronger, more secure nation.
This does not make labor a special interest. This makes labor special.