Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor Omnia Vincit

Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair

On Monday Americans celebrated Labor Day.  For most it is just a chance to join family for a three day weekend.  Few know the origin and history of Labor Day.  Supposedly Matthew Maguire, a machinist and a union leader, from New York City proposed that a Parade of workers from various trades be conducted to exhibit to the public "the strength a of the trade and labor organizations.”  That tradition continues in many cities across the U.S. where organized labor unions are strong.  Labor Day became an official national holiday in 1894 when President Grover Cleveland signed it into law a mere six days after the infamous Pullman strike. 

Did you know that Oklahoma’s state motto is, “Labor Omnia Vinci.,” That is Latin for Labor Conquers All Things.  Labor Omnia Vincit was incorporated into the design of the Grand Seal of the Territory of Oklahoma during the second session of the Territorial Legislative Assembly held in Guthrie, January 1893.  State mottoes often reflect the character and beliefs of the citizens of the state and they can also give us insight into the history of a state.  While Oklahoma has little organized labor presence in the state today, but that wasn’t always the case.  Records show cowboys striking for higher wages in the panhandle in 1883.  Railroad, miners and agriculture union workers were among some of first settlers in the state.  The elected officials in the state for the first twenty years of statehood were supported and backed by organized labor.  That is how Labor Omnia Vinci became our state motto. 

In fact, in 1906, Governor Charles Haskell presented Samuel Gompers, the head of the AFL, with the pens used to sign the Oklahoma Constitution, "in commemoration of the first Constitution that has ever been written in the United States in which the labor interests have taken a part, the same protecting the interests of the common people more fully than any other Constitution in the United States."

But organized labor hurt Oklahoma.  Instead of attracting businesses to a centrally located state with a mild climate and hard workers, the state became a place to avoid.  Because of high labor costs, high taxes, and high workers compensation premiums, businesses stayed out of Oklahoma.  Many existing businesses left the state.    The result was a per capita income at or near the worst in the country for the first hundred years of statehood.

But Oklahoma is doing better.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, per capita income in Oklahoma is #32 in the U.S. - up from #42 just eight years ago.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Oklahoma is #11 in unemployment with an unemployment rate of 5.3%.  That compares to an unemployment rate of 7.4% nationally.  Why is the Sooner state doing better than the rest of the U.S.?  There is a simple reason:  Oklahoma has made significant policy changes.  When state voters overwhelmingly passed Right-to-Work in 2001, it removed an impediment to attracting and growing business in the state.  Two years ago, the legislature passed lawsuit reform, another obstacle to business.  When that law was struck down by the Supreme Court, it created the need for this week’s special session of the legislature.  Oklahoma has reduced state income taxes from 7.25% to 5.25% in just six years.  Oklahoma has begun to rebuild its crumbling infrastructure, spending more on roads and bridges than ever before.  And all this has happened in just the past ten years AFTER Republicans gained control of the state legislature.

Republicans understand the need for jobs and that keeping our most precious resources- our kids and grandkids- in the state is dependent on jobs.  Those kids must be able to find a job when they get out of school.  Labor conquers all is a great motto but without a job it’s just sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.

1 comment:

Valerie Basham said...

I'm leaving a comment. :) Thank you for this Oklahoma state history lesson, it was very interesting! I agree completely. Hope you have a great week.