Our Opinion: Trump is failing the American worker

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Over time, Labor Day has lost its meaning as the celebration of a movement central to defining the American character. By overlooking the significance of the holiday, however, Americans would naively assume that such institutions as the weekend, the 40-hour work week, overtime pay, the existence of laws forbidding child labor, and the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA) were bequeathed upon us without a struggle.

The American labor movement came about as a result of workers who could no longer countenance working themselves to death for little pay in order to enrich their employers, who held all the levers of government. If this sounds a lot like the situation the American people find themselves in today, one factor is the erosion of the union power that reached its apex during the post-WWII manufacturing boom. There are many reasons for the movement's decline, among them corruption within its leadership as well as a systematic effort to undermine worker protections and political power by some on the political right..

Organized labor contributed mightily to the growth of a robust middle class that became the bedrock of postwar economic advancement. Thanks to so-called "right-to-work" laws enacted by Republican-dominated state legislatures and the exporting of skilled, well-paying jobs to countries where labor cheapened both the cost and quality of goods, the movement has been in retreat. Ironically, it was blue-collar workers who, in many cases, shot themselves in the foot by succumbing to the nativist, America-first campaign rhetoric of our current president, who has made a cynical priority of disadvantaging labor.

The recently passed Republican tax cut plan, for example, was designed to minimize the tax burden on the wealthiest Americans on the now-debunked theory that their added riches would create a tide that floated all boats. That has not happened — in fact, the new money was mainly used, as predicted, by companies seeking to buy back their own stock, thereby augmenting dividends. Already, Republicans are using the resulting massive deficit the plan created as an excuse for an assault on government programs that the average worker holds dear, like Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. Just last week, Trump cited the deficit as a pretext for canceling scheduled raises to all federal workers, who are unionized.

The president's juvenile and petulant trade tariffs have already resulted in the loss American jobs that depend on imported materials, and the tariff-caused increases in cost for many consumer products. These have more than negated the paltry tax breaks to lower-income workers that Republicans grudgingly included in their plan in order to make it more economically palatable. Real wages are flat while inflation is increasing at a rate not seen for years — exacerbated by the need for the government to service the debt on the record $1 billion-plus deficit created by the tax plan.

This is a perilous time for labor — both organized and unorganized. As we pause on this day to mark the unofficial end of summer, we should also reflect upon the willing hands and hearts that helped create the greatest economy on Earth. They are assets not to be trifled with.

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