(I wrote  “International Workers’ Day; Immigration Reform; Gas Drilling Industrialization”  in May 2010.  The Great Recession of 2008  had been  wreaking havoc for  eighteen months.  Anti-frackers were  fighting  for a real moratorium in New York State and  The Robert Woods Johnson Foundation (RWJF) released its national,  county-by-county  rankings of  Health Factors and Outcomes (2010/11).   

  • Urban Bronx  and rural Sullivan Counties  were reported at the bottom and next-to-bottom  for “State  Health Outcomes” in New York State. 

In 2019,  those rankings from 2010/11 remain unchanged even though Sullivan’s  “quality of life”  ranking  fell from 50th to 60th place while Clinical Care and Physical Environment  each dropped 11 rungs.   In light of those  poor trends,  it’s odd that significant improvements occurred  in the County’s  Health Factors and Behaviors rankings;  especially when we consider that  wage workers continue to fill multiple  part-time jobs, work longer hours to pay the rent and  struggle to pay  off exorbitant college loans. 

Despite the 2010 passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and  increases in the minimum wage, workers  lucky enough to have health insurance can’t afford to use it.   All but the very wealthy pay ridiculous amounts for  diagnostic tests and medical treatments.  Those on the narrowest edges  are forced to  ration prescription meds and forego  doctor appointments.

Coincidentally,  CBS reports that, “Among American workers, participation in a union fell to 10.5 percent last year, from 10.7 percent in 2017 and 2016, with all demographic groups seeing a decline in membership. The drop continues a trend that except for a pause during the 2008 financial crisis, has been ongoing since the 1980s, when the share of organized labor was roughly double what it is today.”

To top it off,  against a backdrop of  increased machine labor, escalating climate disruptions and  water and food insecurity,  economists are warning of another impending, global recession.

One bright spot?   If forced by management, the United Auto Workers (UAW)  will strike Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler when their contract expires September 14th.  “Everything is on the table,” said Connie Maynard, a Ford worker and UAW 900 member.  “.We’ve got to stand up for our rights, we’ve got to fight for our pensions, health care — we have no choice. If we don’t fight, it’s gone. And we have to come together as people. It doesn’t matter about officials or anybody — if you’re a member, you need to come out here and show your support.” 

History:  CLU, International Workers’ Day,  The Haymarket  Riot,  Pullman Strike and Labor day


International Workers’ Day is always on May 1st and many of us consider it “The Real Labor Day.”

In 1886,  the American Federation of Labor (AFL)  called on workers to strike any business that refused to abide by an 8-hour  workday.   According to Howard Zinn’s  A People’s History of the United States, (1995, p. 264)  on May 1,  1886,

350,000 workers in 11,562 establishments all over the country went out on strike.  In Chicago, 40,000 struck and 45,000 were granted a shorter working day to prevent them from striking.  Every railroad in Chicago stopped running and most of the industries in Chicago were paralyzed.  The stockyards were closed down.”

In 1880,  The United States’ population was approximately 50 million and  Chicago’s  was 500,000. According to the 1880 Census Compendium Part II,  there were  2.8 million  men, women and children working in the nation’s 254,000  manufacturing  facilities.  Using  Zinn’s figures then,  approximately 13% of US workers  struck on  May 1, 1886.

Imagine,  in 2010,  13% of  the US’ 140 million “documented”  workers striking for  universal health care  and a living wage.    Imagine  18 million  workers thronging the  streets, hand-in-hand, advocating  for themselves, their children and the future of this nation.

In 1983,  my oldest son was born in the middle of an “economic downturn.”  A gallon of gas cost $1.25,  a Dodge Ram truck cost $5700 and the average monthly rent was  $335.  Cleaning toilets and pushing a lawnmower earned me $10 an hour.  (When I saved enough to buy my father’s old riding mower, I was able to ask $15 an hour for larger properties.)

In 2000, after the boom times of the 1990’s,  most  freelance “domestic workers”  could earn  $15-20 an hour.  Around that same time, our counterparts in New York City were  being paid  in the $25-30 range.

In July  2009 — the costs of most everything having doubled since 1983 —   the US  minimum wage was raised to  $7.25 per hour and most wage workers shook their heads when urged to celebrate.

This past May 1st,  I worked and was glad for it  though I know  Grandma and Grandpa were  rolling in their graves.  (May 1st was the date my family eschewed labor for history;  the day we  remembered  Samuel Gompers,  the AFL  and the perfidy of  police officers who helped  smother labor’s demands for living wages, humane working conditions and  equal pay regardless of  gender and race.)

On May 1, 2010,  I informed a prospective client  that “I’d have to charge $20 an hour to clean his house”  and cited  the round-trip  travel time, cost of products, gas,  fuel oil, rent, etc.

The weighty pause on the other end of the phone and the aghast rejoinder took me by surprise,  “We won’t pay that.  We don’t pay more than $15 an hour in the City.”

“That’s interesting,”  said I.  “A few years ago,  the going rate for housekeepers in the City was nearer $25-30 an hour.”

“Not anymore,”  came the smug-sounding reply.

There are times when my naivete is unforgivable.

I asked another  “City dweller” — a member of a  white collar union  and Fracking opponent —   what the going rate for domestic service  is in her neighborhood.  “Ten dollars an hour,”  she answered.  “But that’s because we have so many ‘illegals.'”

“‘Illegals?  You mean ‘undocumented workers?'”

She shrugged.

So for those of you who oppose gas drilling and own homes  in the City as well as in our rural Pennsylvania and New York communities, remember this simple action + action = results equation:

When you pay less than subsistence wages to  the “illegal human”  who has to buy groceries and pay rent  in Manhattan,  Brooklyn or Long Island,

YOU  DRIVE DOWN  the wages of the person struggling  beside you in Callicoon, Milanville and Honesdale and


When I raised this issue of wage depression with friends who live both rurally and in the City,  I was told their  ability to share the wealth is constrained  by their loss of retirement funds;  that their disposable income has been drastically reduced  by cutbacks in their businesses and occupations.

I understand.  My bank account plunged right beside theirs and Sullivan County’s  real unemployment figure is nearer 20% than the officially cited  10.9%

So, given that we’re all in  greatly reduced circumstances,  here’s my deal:  I’ll reduce my housekeeping charges by $5  to $15 an hour if you’ll promise to increase my counterpart’s  wage in the City to a  $15 cash rate.

If you can still afford to hire domestic help,  for your own sake,  pay them a living wage.  Otherwise, whose disposable income will  keep you in business?

I saved money during the 1983 downturn.  I paid the hospital and obstetrician  cash for their services.

The son born to me in 1983  was admitted to the New York State Bar last week.  If he was born today,  I doubt he’d ever see the inside of a law school.

Breathing is Political because our personal political, economic and social decisions influence the growth of a child in our neighbor’s womb.  A child’s life depends, in large part,  on the health of the mother and on  the parents’  ability to provide nutritious meals, books, ideas, a secure home and a realistic dream for the future.

For all workers, the breadth of that dream and its attainability  depend on you and me  caring about equitable treatment for all.  It does NOT depend on  us short-changing another worker just because we can.

As for union workers who de-value the work and lives  of others’,  as I write this,  America’s teacher unions are the latest  anti-union target.  Unfortunately,  if the rest of us are busy scrabbling for each other’s spare nickle,  we won’t have the leisure to  fight beside you.