Labor Day weekend open thread

Happy Labor Day! The U.S. Department of Labor provides a short history of the holiday here. A couple of years ago, Bleeding Heartland readers discussed favorite labor-themed music, inspired by Peter Rothberg’s top ten Labor Day song list. Here are three dozen reasons Americans should be grateful to the organized labor movement. After the jump I’ve posted excerpts from President Abraham Lincoln’s December 1861 State of the Union address.

Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer for many people. The heat wave smothering Iowa for the last week finally broke, so I hope everyone is able to enjoy some time outside today.

This is an open thread. The big news of the weekend is that President Barack Obama will seek Congressional authorization for military intervention in Syria. A post is in progress about Iowa political views on how and whether the U.S. should get involved militarily there.

The national unemployment rate is down somewhat this year, but our economy would be a lot healthier if we hadn’t sacrificed so much job-creating potential on the altar of federal budget austerity. We should have been taking advantage of low interest rates to invest in high-speed rail, clean water infrastructure and other long-lasting public works. But those efforts have been a dead letter since Republicans took back the U.S. House. The sequester set in motion by the 2011 clash over raising the debt ceiling is not only affecting federal employees directly, but also many people who rely on federal programs. Even some of the fact-checkers have bought into the “growing deficit” propaganda, despite the fact that the deficit is falling faster than it has in decades.

Excerpts from Abraham Lincoln’s December 1861 State of the Union address.

It is not needed nor fitting here that a general argument should be made in favor of popular institutions, but there is one point, with its connections, not so hackneyed as most others, to which I ask a brief attention. It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government. It is assumed that labor is available only in connection with capital; that nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it induces him to labor. This assumed, it is next considered whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own consent, or buy them and drive them to it without their consent. Having proceeded so far, it is naturally concluded that all laborers are either hired laborers or what we call slaves. And further, it is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer is fixed in that condition for life.

Now there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed, nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless.

Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. Nor is it denied that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital producing mutual benefits. The error is in assuming that the whole labor of community exists within that relation. A few men own capital, and that few avoid labor themselves, and with their capital hire or buy another few to labor for them. A large majority belong to neither class–neither work for others nor have others working for them. In most of the Southern States a majority of the whole people of all colors are neither slaves nor masters, while in the Northern a large majority are neither hirers nor hired. Men, with their families–wives, sons, and daughters–work for themselves on their farms, in their houses, and in their shops, taking the whole product to themselves, and asking no favors of capital on the one hand nor of hired laborers or slaves on the other. It is not forgotten that a considerable number of persons mingle their own labor with capital; that is, they labor with their own hands and also buy or hire others to labor for them; but this is only a mixed and not a distinct class. No principle stated is disturbed by the existence of this mixed class.

Again, as has already been said, there is not of necessity any such thing as the free hired laborer being fixed to that condition for life. Many independent men everywhere in these States a few years back in their lives were hired laborers. The prudent, penniless beginner in the world labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself, then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This is the just and generous and prosperous system which opens the way to all, gives hope to all, and consequent energy and progress and improvement of condition to all. No men living are more worthy to be trusted than those who toil up from poverty; none less inclined to take or touch aught which they have not honestly earned. Let them beware of surrendering a political power which they already possess, and which if surrendered will surely be used to close the door of advancement against such as they and to fix new disabilities and burdens upon them till all of liberty shall be lost.

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