Did you know that Labor Day used to be the time for big parades? Yes, giant marches celebrating the might and muscle of working people and the goods and services they produced were the norm. One of the biggest parades used to be held in Detroit.
Well, I’ve always loved parades. And since I grew up in what once was a gritty, riverfront industrial city, I do remember at least one parade celebrating labor.
I was just a kid at the time but I’ll never forget the big parade in my hometown to celebrate jobs. Sponsored by organized labor, the parade marched down Broadway in Camden (NJ) to herald the construction of the NS Savannah at Camden’s 273-acre New York Shipbuilding Corporation.
Above all, Camden was a blue-collar town. And it was solidly Democrat and pro-labor. Employment was always the defining “bread and butter” issue for Democrats. And keeping people working and creating new jobs – good jobs – was the essential mission of the Democratic Party. Indeed, “jobs” was the party’s mantra and Democrats rarely spoke on any issue without mentioning jobs.
With Labor Day here once again, I think of that day in Camden so many years ago. Of course, the heralded shipyard in Camden has long since closed along with some many other industrial giants that once dotted the city’s waterfront. And I’m looking at tepid jobs figures for July and August (below 200,000 jobs created) and more than thirty months of lower inflation-adjusted wages under “Lunch Bucket Joe” Biden as I wonder what happened. Oh, I know the jobless rate is relatively low but that’s only because the number of people actually in the job market and actively looking for a job is way down as well. When people get paid not to work, well . . . you know the rest. On top of all that, productivity is down as well. Certainly you’ve heard of the new trend of “quiet quitting” and the “great resignation”, haven’t you?
On top of all that, Bidenomics with its accompanying inflation has robbed working people of their buying power as real wages continue to dwindle.
What went wrong? Well, the Democrat Party of FDR, JFK and LBJ forgot about working people and become the woke-centered party of tech tycoons, indulged celebrities, ivory tower eggheads, entrenched bureaucrats, suburban sycophants and corporate zillionaires who specialize in outsourcing jobs?
Both Obama and Biden’s record on the economy and jobs has been dismal. And GDP growth (such as it is) has been embarrassing. Plus, let’s not forget the huge drop in the stock market under Biden which has emaciated ordinary workers’ 401Ks and pension plans.
But nobody on the left seems to want to talk about these failures – not the liberal establishment, not the Democratic leadership and certainly not the labor movement.
Obama always argued that the economy was in a ditch, claiming “we’ve gotten it out of the ditch and want to put it in drive.” But the car never really got moving again — not the way it should be; not the way Reagan got it moving in the 1980s; nowhere near the way Trump got it zooming during his term and not even the way Clinton got it humming in the 1990s. And this situation has only gotten worse under Biden. But Democrats and Big Labor only want to talk about wedge issues as they immerse themselves in the popular culture and the rotting realm of identity politics.
There was a time when Democrats labor leaders were close to the people. There was a time when they actually worked alongside the people that they represented. Those days seem long gone.
And all this has prompted an exodus from rank and file union members away from the Democrat Party and into the arms of the GOP.
If you doubt that, just look at the continuing Trump-fueled appeal of the Republican Party among real, live, rank and file blue collar workers. Since 2010 the GOP poll numbers have jumped double digits among blue collar voters while the Democrats have lost ground. It’s no wonder even NBC News has been forced to conclude as follows: “There are signs across racial and ethnic demographic groups that Republicans are becoming the party of blue-collar Americans and the change is happening quickly.” This would have been unthinkable only a couple of decades ago.
What’s more, all of this has been happening as union membership has steadily dwindled. When the Savannah was built in Camden, labor unions represented a third of all workers. By 1983 the number had fallen to 20 percent. And by 2008 it was down to 12 percent and it has pretty much continued to drop since. For example, the union membership rate was 10.1 percent in 2022, down from 10.3 percent in 2021. The 2022 unionization rate (10.1 percent) is the lowest on record.
Why can’t the Democrats turn any of this around?
What happened to one of the central promises of traditional liberalism – jobs?
These are questions worth pondering once again this Labor Day.