2007-06-15 / Columnists

The Progressive

Commentary By John Paul Culotta

By John Paul Culotta

A few days ago, my wife and I were taking a walk on the beach. It was a perfect day. There was a cool breeze, no clouds in the sky, and all was right with the world. We both forgot about our aches and pain. Summer makes us forget the woes of everyday life.

My relatives in Italy sing a song that says the person who invented the season of summer, should live a hundred years of happiness. I agree. Unfortunately, our problems do not go away while we are at the beach, visiting other cities, enjoying picnics, reading trashy novels, or just relaxing.

As a nation, we are reminded that most other industrialized countries enjoy more paid vacation or leisure time than we do. My relatives in France and their compatriots consider a month or longer paid vacation as almost sacrosanct. We, on the other hand, are more career and work driven. Vive la difference! At the same time, we should consider the value of an economy that is more humane and that treats workers not as a commodity to be exploited, but as a valuable resource.

During summer, our nation celebrates Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day. We need to recognize that each day is celebrated not for trips to the mall, amusement park activities, a day of fishing, or any of the

other pleasures of a day off.

Our dead heroes would be better commemorated with a commitment by the nation to serve the wounded and battle-scarred veterans and their families. We should also seek diplomacy over the use of force in settling differences between nations. Preventive wars do not prevent war-only exacerbate the causes of war.

We would better commemorate our founding fathers by committing the nation to the republican ideals of habeas corpus, recognition of the separation of powers in the different branches of government, and a ban on the use of torture. Our commitment not to mix religion with government has been weakened by the present administration. Our Fourth of July is not only about independence from a foreign power-it is the celebration of our nation of laws, not a nation that trusts a leader to safeguard rights and security. True security implies risk. No leader alone can secure and safeguard us.

Workers need strong unions, safety regulations enforced, and a commitment for a living wage for all American families. Labor Day should remind us of these basic facts. Many poets, philosophers, and theologians recognize the value of work as a liberating activity. For too many Americans, work is only mindless drudgery and indignity that is rewarded with poverty and despair.

A few weeks ago, I read that our nation was the only major economic power that does not recognize the need for paid sick days for all workers. Most employers do not provide this benefit. As a result, many workers go to work with infectious diseases. Many of these employees work in our restaurants, health care facilities, and offices. Diseases are often spread throughout the community because many feel obliged to report to work. Some employers fire people for calling in sick.

Labor Day is not only the end of summer or the wearing of white. It is not just a day for parades and political speeches. It is a reminder that wage slavery exists in America, and not all Americans share in its' bounty. Without a commitment to social and economic justice, all our rights and privileges as a free people can be wiped out with social strife and chaos. We as a people have been blessed with a nation that has enjoyed a high standard of living that has been the envy of the world. This will not be our future if we neglect the importance of labor unions, the importance of an efficient health care delivery system, defined portable pension plans, safety regulation enforcement, and the value of paid sick days, family leave and a commitment to treat workers with dignity and a living wage.

Attacks by the present administration on our bill of rights, democratic traditions, and constitutional guarantees are frightening. Both parties share responsibility. Congressional members of both parties are guilty. They sought political safety over courageous statements of outrage and concern. We have become a nation of sheep and allowed our fear of terror to be used by our President to justify an attack on a sovereign nation that posed no threat to us.

At the same time, many Americans are seeing a dramatic decrease in the American standard of living. Many Americans can only enjoy a decent standard of living by carrying heavy credit card debt. Many other Americans live in poverty and have a mortality rate that is comparable to people in third-world nations. Why? It is because we only celebrate Labor Day as a day for summertime activity-not as a national duty to pledge that all workers deserve a safe workplace, a living wage, and dignity.

I recently met two blue-collar young men. Both were given membership in two trade unions. Their futures appear promising. Their families will be provided by their labor with all the necessities and some luxuries of life. They may have a defined pension when old. There is enough evidence that union work places are safer. Can their futures be secure if the attacks on labor organizations continue and many other Americans are denied the possibility of organizing? History demonstrates that totalitarian regimes prefer weak or controlled unions. With the attacks on our civil liberties and weak labor unions, is our country headed for an authoritarian future?

Enjoy our summer but please make a commitment to remember our veterans, the liberties we enjoy, and voice a concern to our elected officials regarding economic justice!

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