Until Further Notice: A Labor Day Message from IAM President Tom Buffenbarger

“Labor Day has changed dramatically. Massive marches in Detroit, Pittsburgh and New York City on this day once marked the power of organized labor. This year, union members will be marching in much smaller parades and enjoying slimmed-down picnics. Some parades and picnics have been cancelled altogether.

Those are signs of the times. Here are a few more.

Over 9.1 million Americans— and non-union alike—are categorized by the Department of Labor as involuntary part-time workers. They’re the lucky ones. They still have a job, but are working fewer hours each week. Their reduced paychecks reflect that fact. So do their shopping habits. By counting pennies, clipping coupons and juggling credit card payments, they get by—

For more than one million union members and over 14.2 million non-union Americans, cutting back on spending is no longer an option. It is an imperative. They lost their paycheck. In far too few instances, it was replaced by unemployment insurance checks. The government’s three or four hundred dollars a week hardly covers their mortgage. Paying for groceries, utilities, insurance, school supplies and clothes has become trickier than Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme.

Another 6.2 million Americans are only marginally attached to the workforce, according the Department of Labor. They went looking for a job in the last year but couldn’t find one. In the next few months, these jobless Americans will start dropping off the radar. Very few will find work. Most will accept the grim reality that there simply aren’t any jobs available to them.

If you add the 9.1 million involuntary part-time workers and the 15.2 million unemployed to the 6.2 million workers marginally attached to the workforce, the total number of Americans idled in this recession exceeds 30.5 million! That’s 19.7 percent of the workforce – or one out of five workers.

So here’s my suggestion: Let’s dramatically change the nature of Labor Day. A member of the Machinists union, Matthew McGuire, is credited with the idea of setting aside one day a year to celebrate work, and to give people a chance to enjoy a day off with their family and friends. But with 30.5 million of us idled to some degree, it seems to me that this is no time to celebrate the work we do. Instead, lets dedicate this Labor Day to those who are NOT working.

Forget about who belongs to a union and who doesn’t. Remember that we are all Americans. And let’s do more for the army of the jobless than pray, “there but for the grace of God, go I.”

Each of us should do some little thing for those who are suffering in this Grave Recession – cook a meal, drop off a six pack, fix a broken swing, cut a lawn, or just drop by for a visit. We need to show we give a damn about them and what they are going through.

And on every Labor Day until we reach full employment again, lets join in solidarity with our unemployed and underemployed brothers and sisters. And in those intervening 364 days, let’s use our collective strength to persuade our government that we need JOBS Now!