Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor Day

Labor Day History

The link above has a very brief history of Labor Day. Because it's a government site, it has a certain slant to it. You can read more at other sites.

"Labor Day differs in every essential way from the other holidays of the year in any country," said Samuel Gompers, founder and longtime president of the American Federation of Labor.

He's right. Most holidays fall into one of two categories:

1. Religiously inspired (Christmas, Easter, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, etc.)
2. Patriotically inspired (Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Independence Day, Columbus Day, etc.)

In both cases, the holidays often center around family-oriented events, even if it's just a picnic. And we usually somehow recognize the importance of the holiday itself, with a trip to church or temple, or a moment of silence or a 21-gun salute.

Labor Day is different. It grew out of the worker's revolt of the late 19th century, when business owners were taking advantage of the working class and workers were forced to unionize to get simple things like decent and safe working conditions, paid overtime, health care, pension plans, etc.

Somehow, that's been completely forgotten. You'll notice the government web site barely mentions the unions. That's because they don't want to remind Americans that unions are a good thing. (The rest of the world celebrates workers day on May 1.)

It's true, over the years, unions became slothful and selfish, and that's resulted in less and less power for the unions. I'm a member of two unions, the Editors Guild (Local 700) and the American Federation of Musicians Local 40 . Both are affiliated with the AFL-CIO, and I had to take an oath to uphold my union brothers and sisters when I joined both of them.

I take that oath seriously. I won't cross a picket line.

And I think twice before shopping at a non-union facility like WalMart. Sometimes it's unavoidable, there's nowhere else near my parents' house in New Hampshire to shop. But essentially the WalMart paradigm functions because they undercut their own workers.

And they supply cheap goods, made mostly overseas in sweatshops, but then so does every other store in the US. Americans have become so accustomed to cheap goods, we've forgotten that our grand-parents and great-grand parents placed their jobs, and even their lives, in jeopardy to march for organized labor.

Today we celebrate Labor Day with a day off. Ironic that we remember the day by NOT working. You don't see many organized remembrances of the men and women who worked so hard for fair working conditions.

Well, I ask that today you take a moment to remember them. And celebrate the day by NOT shopping at WalMart or any other non-union facility. If everyone did this every day, we'd be in a much better country.

EDIT:

I didn't see this until after I wrote the post, but the LA TIMES has a good editorial today about Labor Day.

LA TIMES editorial about Labor Day
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