Labored Relations

The three-day Labor Day weekend came this year amidst the unparalleled tragedy and devastation of Hurricane Katrina. George W. Bush, true to form, defined American workmanship the only way he could — by lying and diverting disaster relief.

On September 2, Bush toured the breached 17th Street levee in New Orleans with Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), giving her cause to believe “a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe” was underway. However, when Landrieu flew over the same spot 24 hours later, she was appalled:

“It became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity,” she wrote in a press release, “and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment. The good and decent people of southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast — black and white, rich and poor, young and old — deserve far better from their national government.”

While the President served his own interests with shameless photo opportunities and public-relations spin, the federal government blocked relief from charitable agencies like the Red Cross as well as foreign governments. Bush’s numbers dove due to his obvious inattention to a national crisis, but there was still a complete lack of coordination between FEMA, Homeland Security, the National Guard and local law enforcement.

Said anarchy culminated in a shootout this Sunday between police and members of the Army Corps of Engineers — the same division that warned Washington, D.C. of imminent infrastructure failure due to budget cuts. The contractors were desperately racing to repair a nearby canal; the confusion, however, left five dead.

Chaos reigns over the city of New Orleans as bodies pile up and services deplete. Through it all, the federal government has stalled efforts and outright lied in a feeble attempt to minimize the horrors from reaching the masses.

That’s what American labor has become. Still feel like celebrating?

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Katrina has shown that cherishing loved ones may be the most important thing we can do at the moment. I was fortunate to spend Labor Day weekend with friends and family.

But celebrating fabled American “craftsmanship” at this time is a joke. We live today in a country all but bereft of the worker’s spirit we’re supposed to laud every September. More and more blue-collar jobs are moving overseas to help corporate profit margins while our own economy crumbles and rots from within.

How, then, do we celebrate labor? As just another day of unemployment?

This past weekend saw tens of thousands of Americans join the ranks of the jobless. More will likely follow suit as soon as exploding gas prices force small businesses to reduce headcount. Commodities markets are already feeling the pinch because the Mississippi River can no longer transport goods — the Midwest is all but cut off from selling its wares around the world.

Obviously this does not bode well for the American economy or its workforce.

How, then, do we celebrate labor? As a beer-soaked lament of nothing in particular? As a solemn requiem of days gone by?

We celebrate it by taking labor back for the average American. Demand the billions wasted frivolously on Iraq put back into this country. In New Orleans, workers actively trying to preserve a city with a rich cultural heritage were flat-out refused public funds to keep storms like Katrina from the destruction we are witnessing today. Those funds were subsequently used to wage war abroad.

Rebuild New Orleans (without worrying about the eminent-domain nonsense the Supreme Court foisted on us earlier this year), rebuild our roads, our schools, our public works. Start building stuff again instead of selling patent rights to offshore manufacturers. Give the public something to do and they’ll do it.

Most important, however, the government needs to change. Drastically. Thinking our government is here to help is probably the biggest hurdle to overcome. FEMA and Homeland Security were specifically chartered to deal with the kind of mess we’re dealing with now and they’ve failed miserably. Bush is now counting on charitable aid to fix Katrina’s devastation. Where did all of our tax money go, then? Secret concentration camps? Illegal wars? Why was it not spent on disaster prevention?

The time for fun and games is long over. Enough with the racism and elitism regarding who gets rescued. Enough smug satisfaction over what little has already been done. Bring our National Guard home from Iraq to do the job they were enlisted to do. Impeach and jail any official who feels otherwise. Our people are dying because shoddy politics gutted the ability to keep this nation working.

Labor Day should be a day to sit and reflect on the contribution the worker has made to the United States over the past 200 years. Our blood and sweat built this great nation. Only greedy politicos and oligarchs tear it down with their ignorance and short-sightedness.

How, then, do we celebrate Labor? By respecting the workforce. By not treating them like chattel. By not immediately hiring government cronies to profit from the mess you made.

In short, not by paying lip service to the hard-working men and women of the United States.