Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Second September Song

Answers Your Letters.

The New Year is 5770.

Labor Day Chronicled;

Autos, Ballots Discussed

By Henry J. Stern
September 2, 2009

Yesterday’s rumination, September Song, drew a larger than usual response from readers. Some of them first corrected the inexcusable mistake that we made with regard to the Jewish New Year, which will begin on the evening of Saturday, September 19. The number of the year will be 5770, not 5760. There is a reason for the error which is embarrassing, so I will not explain it here. But if anyone is curious, you can e-mail me and I will explain why I miscounted. That is a compromise between secrecy and pre-emptive disclosure. I am sorry about the error, and we have corrected it on our website.

If you want to know why 5770 arrives in 2009, the Jewish calendar reckons back in time to the date of Creation, which was reached by adding up the ages of those who are mentioned in the Bible. The nine generations prior to the birth of Noah lived exceptionally long lives. They were called antediluvians, because they lived before the great Flood. In sequence, their names were Adam, Seth, Enoch, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methusaleh, and Lamech, father of Noah.

For many years, Christian churches maintained that the date of the world’s origin was 4004 B.C., as computed by Archbishop James Ussher, the Primate of All Ireland from 1625 to 1656, who published a chronology that proclaimed the time and date of Creation as the night preceding 23 October, 4004.

In our review of the modern calendar for September we regrettably omitted Labor Day, a legal holiday in the United States, established by Act of Congress in 1894 in the aftermath of the massacre of striking Pullman Car workers, where 13 strikers were killed and 57 wounded by U.S. Army troops. The bill was signed into law by President Grover Cleveland six days after the end of the strike. Labor Day had been observed in New York City as early as 1882. The American Federation of Labor was founded in 1886 in Columbus, Ohio. This year Labor Day falls on Monday, September 7, the latest date on which it can be observed. In addition to honoring working people, it provides a three-day weekend at the close of summer, often just before school starts for the year.

When I was a young man, Labor Day was much more important than it is today. It was celebrated by parades of union members, and it marked the unofficial beginning of the political campaign season, which ended on Election Day, the first Tuesday AFTER the first Monday in November (Nov. 2-8). I believe that I remember the Democrats holding a large rally in Cadillac Square in downtown Detroit, which was regarded as a labor citadel after the bloody struggles to organize automobile workers in the 1930s. Management, particularly Ford, resisted forcibly, and there were street battles in which people were killed. In recent years, Labor Day parades have not been held as widely, in part because the workers did not want to go downtown and march on a holiday for themselves and their families.

The hostility between labor and management in the American automobile industry persisted for generations, and was one of the factors that led to the collapse of the Detroit automakers. Over the years, the United Automobile Workers, once headed by Walter Reuther, won substantial wage increases, benefits and pensions by threatening to strike one company at a time until agreement was reached. Once agreement was reached with one company, the others had to follow the pattern or they would be struck, and their chances to sell cars that year seriously impaired. The union also won supplementary unemployment benefits for its members so that the companies and the government would have to pay 90 per cent or more of their employees’ salaries, whether they had work to do or were idle.

There is no doubt that the UAW was valuable and important in moving auto workers into the middle class and preventing tyranny in the factories. It also helped elect progressive public officials, such as Governor G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams of Michigan. But once the primacy and power of the union was firmly established, it inevitably ran roughshod over weaker management. The Democratic Party became closely aligned with trade unions in a symbiotic relationship, although the unions are disappointed at the failure of Democrat-controlled legislatures to approve their agenda. For example, outlawing the secret ballot in union representation elections (hypocritically and deceptively called the “Employees Free Choice Act”) is a hard sell to independents and libertarians who prefer secret ballots (that is the way public officials are elected in free countries). Congress elects its leaders by secret ballot; why should workers be denied that right?

Whereas many years ago intimidation of employees was likely to come from management (vote No on a union if you want to keep your job) today it is more likely to come from labor (vote Yes on a union or face the wrath of your fellow employees). Over time, the big stick has changed hands. But whichever side a secret ballot may benefit at a particular time, why should employees now be stripped of their historic right to express themselves privately as to whether they want to be unionized? The answer is that ending secrecy would make it easier to organize employees who really do not want to join a union, but are afraid to say ‘No’ in public because they fear retaliation.

It would also have helped the American automobile industry if the former Big Three (GM, Ford and Chrysler) had produced better, more reliable and smaller cars, as their Japanese competitors did. Now that the United States government and the United Auto Workers own or control most of General Motors and Chrysler, we will learn how well they manage an automobile manufacturer and whether Americans will buy the cars that the companies make and sell. Cerberus which we wrote about Aug. 21, has already lost most of the $7.4 billion they invested in Chrysler in 2007. We hope the government-union alliance works, but something makes us doubtful.

One other letter I received in response to “September Song” came from an intelligent woman whom I have known for years. She wondered whether my remarks about September being the time when analysts return from their August vacations and analysands renew their treatment indicated hostility toward psychoanalysis which might come from unresolved issues on my part. I want to assure her and any other readers that I have no such hostility, at least that I am aware of. I am privileged to know some fine analysts. Like all arts and sciences, it can be practiced well or poorly, and the role, if any, of chemical assistance is an open and important issue.

Thank you for all your responses to “September Song”, which I very much appreciate and will try to acknowledge in person. Please be assured that if you write in response to this article, I will not write another Stanza. All the best for a glorious season, and do not gorge on the oysters.

StarQuest #591 09.02.2009 1173 wds

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