May Day has come and gone without much enthusiasm in the US. But for much of the world, May 1st or International Workers' Day, is a time to celebrate the hard won victories of working people the world over. Millions march militantly demonstrating the power of ordinary working people.
But here in America, we apathetically go to the factory, the retail counter, and the cubicle, ignorant to the fact that May Day is the product of an American, radical workers' movement that successfully agitated for the 8-hour day during the 1880's.
In these uncertain, tenuous times we have much to learn from these heroic men that braved the Billy-club and bullet to overcome economic exploitation.
Distracted by war, working families are unaware the latest Bush budget slashes funding for healthcare, public education, and proven job creation techniques while the Administration showers lucrative contracts on the military-industrial complex and bankrupts the Treasury on an ill-advised, cynical tax cut for upper class constituents and campaign financiers.
The Administration's hostility toward working people has never been more obvious.
The New York Times (NYTs, 4/25/03) reported that the Internal Revenue Service is planning to make America's working poor provide exhaustive proof of their eligibility for the earned income tax credit (EITC) to cut down on fraud. The EITC was enacted to ensure that poor Americans that work make enough to survive. Fraud is never justifiable, but as critics point out, "corporations, business owners, investors, and partnerships deprive the government of many times what the working poor ever could...yet these taxpayers face no demands to prove the validity of their claims in advance with certified records and sworn affidavits."
The assumption is implicit; the poor steal while the rich merely find creative ways to file their taxes.
Tongue firmly implanted in cheek, we are told by Administration hacks to swallow the epitaph of "compassionate conservatism," while these double standards endure.
To ensure working Americans have access to this information, the AFL-CIO's website continually compiles Bush's record on working families' issues. The compendium is startling.
Most noteworthy is President Bush's stimulus plan. The plan is essentially one big tax cut for the rich, mainly coming through the dividend tax cut. The President essentially argues it is unfair to tax corporate dividends twice - once as corporate profits and again as taxable income of shareholders. A reasonable rationale, yet the Administration fails to explain that the income workers actually labor for is taxed at least three times through income and payroll taxes when we earn our wages and through sales tax when we spend it.
Moreover, the Administration argues that its stimulus/tax cut package will pump the economy full of cash by giving it to the investor class. But this taxes logic. Why would any logical business owner or investor throw his money into an economy marked by low consumer confidence and minimal demand? No confidence translates into low demand that causes low sales, declining profits and hence little return on investment.
This is why 450 prominent economists, plus 10 Nobel laureates, dismiss the tax cut as ineffective. These economists argue that the tax cut will not produce jobs or growth and will strain the government's ability to fund necessary social services like Medicare and increased education spending.
The latest assault on working people, and most historically relevant to May Day is the Administration's attempt to substitute "comp" time for overtime pay compensation.
On March 27th, 2003, the Bush Administration proposed new rules that could undermine overtime pay guarantees under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Under the benign euphemism of the "Family Time Flexibility Act," this legislation proposes that workers can decide whether they prefer to be paid in standard time-and-a-half or "comp" time after working more than 40 hours. "Comp" time being unpaid time off at a later date.
What proponents of the bill fail to explain is that the ability to use "comp" time is at the employer's discretion and can be postponed for more than a year. This acts as a giant tax cut or an interest free loan since employers do not subtract comp time as a monetary value or pay interest on the worker's borrowed time. Therefore we don't have to be a cynic to imagine the overwhelming pressure employers will place on workers to select comp time rather than time-an-a-half.
If the "comp" time bill passes, the 8 hour work day protection will be eroded since management can work employees longer for no money at all. If so, the Bush Administration will rollback the gains of 120 years of democratically won social protections in a little more than two years.
The robber barons would be proud.
Matthew Thomas Harwood of Morrisville, PA currently works in New York for NOW with Bill Moyers. You can reach him at