Political choices affect working peopleA recession followed by a lackluster recovery has left many Americans increasingly fretful about the future of our middle class.

Labor Day began as a way celebrate the victories of ordinary working people. Those included hard-won victories over a period of more than a century that brought living wages, decent working conditions, old-age pensions and a host of other vital labor rights to millions of people. It was a day to rally everyday people around the idea that we can take nothing for granted, that we must protect all these things that have come to define the United States of America.

If Labor Day is about anything more than a three-day weekend, it ought to be about honoring the meaning of work and understanding how political choices affect working people.

There is real heroism on display every hour of every day in every American office, every fishing boat, every store and restaurant. The man or woman who works to pay the mortgage or to feed the kids - each of us, in our way, is contributing to the survival of our families and the success of our nation.

But with creeping and powerful momentum, the past few years have brought real losses, a deep erosion of everything from real wages to employment benefits. There are underhanded assaults on Social Security and other programs that provide a safety net for the middle class.

At the same, the cost of housing and health have risen markedly. In some work places, such as Enron and Tyco, there has been a decimation of trust, as top-level managers have looted companies. In Oregon, the unholy alliance of Wilshire Financial and Capital Consultants bred a ponzi scheme that depleted union pension accounts.

Little but luck separates too many Americans from financial disaster. Most Americans are one serious accident or illness away from abject poverty.

Our economy is rife with stories of ordinary working people struggling just to get by in an economy that often seems to dismiss the importance of human toil and life. Our global economy, touted by some as a tide that lifts all ships, for too many has turned into a storm that swamps their fragile life raft.

From salmon to cranberries, saw logs to wood chips, the products we produce can all be purchased for less somewhere else. It is a world of low-bidder wins.

The past three years have seen a decline of thousands of dollars in the median family income in Oregon. Businesses find it simply unaffordable to keep up with the steeply spiraling health insurance costs for employees. The state's jobless rate is still too high, and would be higher if many had not given up looking.

Meanwhile, it is appalling that federal tax cuts reward companies that export jobs from the United States in what is insultingly camouflaged with the term "out-sourcing."

Our success as a nation depends on the brains and toil of working people, not on tax manipulations. This is a good day to remember that fact. But Election Day is an even better time to consider all this.

Labor Day should be about the human welfare of the work force, a day to give thanks to those who fought for the 40-hour week and the 8-hour day. It is also a time to consider how easily such gains can be taken away.

For too long, we took what we had for granted.


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