Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

September 3, 2013

WE THE PEOPLE: Labor: undervalued and underpaid

By Clyde Ussery
Chronicle contributor

CROSSVILLE — The world I grew up in was the one John Steinbeck and Woody Guthrie wrote and sang about; and the roads I’ve traveled since were often unpaved. There is not much I haven’t seen, heard, smelled, or waded through, so I’m seldom surprised.

But I’m often outraged. One of the things that sets my hair on fire is the all-out assault on labor—on workers’ right to form unions, on public employees, on unemployment insurance, on Social Security.

Labor Day was declared a national holiday in 1894 as a tribute to the people most responsible for America’s freedom and prosperity: American Workers. But fast-forward to 2013 and we find that Labor Day is now just a 3-day weekend of back-to-school sales and end-of-summer picnics. And American workers are disparaged as lazy moochers who would rather collect unemployment than go out and get one of the high-paying jobs that the “job creators” are working so hard to produce.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt came to the White House, working people needed help. The President and Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins set to work and created Social Security, unemployment insurance, the right of workers to unionize, the minimum wage, and the forty-hour workweek. Their New Deal immediately became the target of big business and Wall Street, and they have never given up. Now 77 years later, working Americans are again in desperate trouble while the denizens of big business and Wall Street are stuffing their pockets with cash and pouring tons of it into lobbying and politics. The Republican/Tea Party wrecking crew is working overtime to destroy the New Deal, and their enablers are the ones who have the most to lose, and many of them live in the South.

The South has the lowest median income and the highest percentage of poverty in America. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, workers in “right to work” states make an average of $7,000 less than their counterparts in states with union shops. (Right to work laws have nothing to do with guaranteed employment, as one might think, and everything to do with stifling unions.) Tennessee, a “right to work” state, has one of the worst income-related policies in the country, including no minimum wage beyond the federal rate of $7.25 per hour. Not only do Republicans want to keep the legal minimum wage low, they want to destroy it entirely.

But, how fortunate for Tennessee working women that Marsha Blackburn has your back! The Congresswoman made it clear that women don’t want equal pay for equal work, they just want to be “recognized.” (Marsha, employers already “recognize” women: as cheap labor.)

Blackburn also says women “simply don’t want the decisions made in Washington. They want to be able to have the power and the control and ability to make those decisions for themselves.” Hmm. Like reproductive rights, for example, Marsha?

Conservative candidates love to tell how one of their ancestors fled to this country with nothing but the “shirt on his back” to escape unbearable hardships. If you have the endurance to listen to the rest of the story it would probably be revealed that said ancestor was soon able to afford pants—for which we can all be grateful—and probably enough spending change to get his own copy of “Atlas Shrugged.” So, why are conservatives now determined to create the same situation in this country that brought their forefathers to these shores in the first place?

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This column represents alternative thoughts to other published columns in the Crossville Chronicle. “We the People” is published each Wednesday. Opinions expressed in “We the People” columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. For more information, contact John Wund, editor, at