The second speaker at the 2018 Labor Day Picnic was Whitney Raver, SD District 30 House Candidate. Her remarks below.
Labor Day 2018
It’s the 21st Century. It’s hard to believe we’re just an awkward 18 years into a new age. It’s also hard to believe we ever left the Dark Ages sometimes. It’s clear that there are some important things we haven’t figured out.
We gather here today, as we have each year for now 124 years, to celebrate the contribution of labor. We gather to share our pride in productivity, and to acknowledge the role of labor in the progress of humanity.
This year, though, it’s not enough just to celebrate. This year, I challenge you to ask some questions – questions that I want you to take with you into the rest of your life.
I want you to ask: What is labor? What is labor worth? Who gets to decide?
These questions aren’t new. And neither is the fight to define them.
Over 200 years ago, a cry rose up from the people of France, louder even than the roaring flames of revolution which they’d set.
They called for Liberty. Fraternity. Equality
For the first time, perhaps ever, they would be the ones to forge their own destinies. No longer would they toil to meet the demands of greedy, impatient lords. No longer would their work be squandered for the comfort of others while they starved. They would be the primary beneficiaries of the products of their labor.
They had a vision, they had a philosophy. For the first time in history, they would attain liberty, fraternity, and equality. Their work would be their road.
Fast forward just about 100 years from that point. The Industrial Revolution, fueled by the demands of the new, emerging Free Market, created the highest per-capita income in American history.
Of course, that’s only half the story. The other half, well, the other half was called “The Great Labor Debate.”
Just four generations after the abolition of feudalism, only four short generations after laborers took to the streets to topple the status quo and become the primary beneficiaries of the product of their labor, their rights to live equitably on their contribution to the creation of wealth was being challenged again.
Mill owners, factory owners, those who contributed little more to productivity than the name on the building were hard pressed to consider their laborers’ efforts worthy. Inflation increased, wages decreased, and naturally, conflict ensued.
At this time it was becoming increasingly apparent that when it came to getting their fair share, solidarity was the laborer’s greatest tool. All over the nation laborers rallied, fought, and many died for the right to organize and unite for better working conditions.
After half a decade of regular strikes and violent clashes, the right to bargain collectively for fair work conditions was recognized, and President Grover Cleveland declared Labor Day a national holiday.
Labor won that round.
So why didn’t it stick? What went wrong?
Today, 124 years later, we’ve been driven into the streets again. The people who make our meals, those who teach our children, those who protect our streets, those who care of our loved ones in their final days– they’re all driven to strike for equitable wages and benefits all over the country.
It’s almost as if our memory fades, but greed never rests.
Sadly, there’s a difference in the way our laborers strike today. Today, our labor protests are far weaker than in the past.
Why? Because we’re disjointed.
The greater strength of previous labor movements wasn’t in their on-site unity. It was in their total solidarity. If the steel mill workers went on strike, the railroaders showed up to support them.
Today, we fight amongst ourselves over who deserves fair and equitable pay, over who deserves access to healthcare, over who deserves education for themselves and for their children.
I say, in the wealthiest and most productive society in human history, we all deserve a seat at the table; we all deserve fair and equitable compensation for our contribution to industry and to society. And if we come together, stand by each other, fight for each other, we will all win.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking. I can almost feel the tight throats and knotted stomachs. “If I agree to this,” you wonder, “what will I have to give up? Why should some ‘burger flipper’ (because it’s still socially acceptable to denigrate others based on their livelihood) why should some ‘burger flipper’ make as much or more than I do? I’m struggling, I need to fight for myself!”
You’re right, you do need to fight for yourself. That’s what solidarity is. Your fight for others is a fight for yourself.
The bar is set at the bottom. You will never receive more for your work than slightly more than the rung beneath you.
Raise the bottom bar, and you raise everyone on the ladder.
So, how do we do this? The easy answer is Get. Out. And. Vote! Learn about your candidates. Support your candidates with time and money. Advocate for your candidates. And if you can’t find a candidate you like run yourself!
Do you remember those questions I asked you? I asked you what is labor? What is labor worth? And most important, who gets to decide?
The fight to define these questions is over 200 years old. We, the people, need to be the ones to answer these questions. We cannot count on the beneficence of corporate lords to ensure we can live equitably off of an honest day’s work. We cannot count on our legislators or congresspeople to ensure the fair distribution of wealth. We must be empowered to secure ourselves.
This cannot become a pointless tug-of-war over today’s wages – the economy is fluid and response to change is slow. We should be fighting for empowerment and all the strength of organized labor, collective bargaining, universal healthcare, an equitable minimum wage.
Understand, fam: this isn’t just about living well. This isn’t just about getting stuff.
Those who hunger for food, cannot feel their hunger for justice.
If that flag truly still represents this country, then we are the stitches that hold it together. We must be strong, sturdy, able to do our duty. If we get left out in the weather, we become too weak to hold our country together. That isn’t the president’s job. That isn’t for congress or legislature – that’s our job. To hold our country together.
Get out and vote. Vote early. Find your favorite candidate and work. Get your friends and family out to vote. We can do this. This is our year!
As the world keeps watching, and this battle for the integrity of our nation, our economy, our democracy, and the Great American Dream wears on, let it be said that the light on the path to the future burns bright in South Dakota!
See you in November!