And I’ve attended many of them in my time.
But one parade above all others stands out in my memory.
I was just a kid at the time but I’ll never forget the big parade in my hometown to celebrate jobs. Sponsored by organized labor, the parade marched down Broadway in Camden (NJ) to herald the construction of the NS Savannah at Camden’s 273-acre New York Shipbuilding Corporation.
Above all, Camden was a blue-collar town. And it was solidly Democrat and pro-labor.
Employment was always the defining “bread and butter” issue for Democrats. And keeping people working and creating new jobs – good jobs – was the essential mission of the Democratic Party. Indeed, “jobs” was the party’s mantra and Democrats rarely spoke on any issue without mentioning jobs.
As Labor Day approaches once again, I think of that day in Camden so many years ago.
What went wrong?
When did the Democratic Party lose sight of its core responsibility? When did it stop caring about jobs?
Recent jobs reports show that few if any new jobs are being created.
When he came into office, President Obama pledged to create 2.7 million to 3.6 million private sector jobs, But by some accounts the nation has lost almost that many jobs (and more!) since the President made his pledge. In fact, unemployment seems to be permanently stuck above 7% as it has been for a long time now.
But in arguing for its massive stimulus plan, the Obama Administration said that if the stimulus was adopted, unemployment could be brought down into the seven percent range or even lower. Instead, the high unemployment rate has barely moved.
And most Americans firmly believe that things seem to be headed in the wrong direction.
Remember, the official rate does not count the underemployed and people who have given up and simply dropped out of the labor market. When those two groups are added, the rate jumps to 17 percent or more. That means than more than 20 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed.
But nobody on the left seems to want to talk about these failures – not the liberal establishment, not the Democratic leadership and certainly not the labor movement. President Obama argues that the economy was in a ditch and now “we’ve gotten it out of the ditch and want to put it in drive.” But the car still doesn’t seem to be moving -- not the way it should be; not the way Reagan got it moving ion the 1980s; not nearly that well. Sometimes, Obama simply says we've hit some "bumps in the road." That's small consolation. And enough with the car metaphors already!
And all of this has been happening as union membership has steadily dwindled. When the Savannah was built in Camden, labor unions represented a third of all workers. By 1983 the number had fallen to 20 percent. And by 2008 it was down to 12 percent. What’s more, the average age of union members seems to be getting older. The largest unionized age group is workers aged 55 to 64.
Why can’t the Democrats turn any of these numbers around?
What happened to one of the central promises of traditional liberalism – jobs?
These are questions worth pondering this Labor Day.