A Day Celebrating Labor


As would be expected my reaction to Labor Day isn’t entirely mainstream.  I don’t know if it’s just because I’m left-handed and lefties seem to look at everything in the world differently than other people, or if I’m just an oddball (which I’m not denying) but Labor Day has always been a bi-polar holiday for me.

First_United_States_Labor_Day_Parade,_September_5,_1882_in_New_York_CityThat the labor movement did a lot to elevate the living conditions of the worker cannot be denied.  We all live lives of relative luxury by the standards of the 1880’s when the labor movement got started, or by the standards of the 1930’s when the date became a federal holiday. I know my own life has been better because of the movement, and even because of some unions.  My dad was a union man — he worked for Wisconsin Electric Power for most of his career.

I have had a different experience of unions.  I’ve worked places where I had to carry a union card (and pay dues) but received absolutely no benefit from my membership.  I lost a dear friend in death during a union organizing strike while I was performing my alternate service for the Draft Board; that death being the direct result of paid goons on the picket line.  And I have been told to work slower and not do as good a job because I made long time workers look bad.  So, you’ll understand if I I admit to some bitter feelings about unions as well.

Clearly, though, this country would not be the nation it is without the impact of the labor movement.

As I put in my hours as a volunteer on this Labor Day — this Monday Holiday is like to be our busiest day of the season (rivaled only by the 4th of July) — I wonder where the labor movement can go from here. It’s been common to blame big business for outsourcing American jobs to other countries. But I know Amerian workers don’t want to work for the wages paid to foreign workers in myriad countries and a global economy won’t sustain the rates labor rates that U.S. workers will demand to produce those same products. Yeah — there are really screwed up issues about corporate tax evasion but that’s another completely different situation. I also know that a great many American workers are quick to buy products made by non-union labor just because they are cheaper — and one thing Americans  seem to love are cheap prices.  All these discount stores, all these low-price-leaders would not exist if the American worker really supported the labor movement as it is today. Membership rolls of unions have suffered over the years, and it seems college grads generally aren’t looking to make their mark on the world as a union members.  S0 my crystal ball for future labor issues is cloudy.

I know we have challenges ahead of us.  No matter which way the election goes nearly 1/2 of the population aren’t going to be happy.  I just hope that both halves can be thankful for the nation we live in and find some way to treat each other with respect and dignity.  I’m not sure we will, or they will.  But I can hope, right?

Have a great Labor Day, y’all.

 

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8 Comments

  1. There is so much truth in this post and the part about the relationship of unions and today’s economic decline is something most people won’t look at…despite that, we are still a great country. In order to make America great again we will have to look at today’s unions and make some serious reforms. Like many things, the labor movement started out as a wonderful solution to a major problem, similar to social security and as is often done…they both became corrupted.

    I do hope the division in this country can be quelled. Too many people have little reality on what life is like in foreign countries or what it was like in the late 1800s or 1930s…life is great here, no matter which party you back…be grateful.

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    1. I find myself troubled by this newly popular expression “make America great again.”
      I truly question whether much has changed in this country at all — or whether we only think it has because now we are enabled to see and hear all of the terrible things that have always been going on.
      For example:
      We do have policement shooting young blacks, but not all that long ago we had mobs lynching them.
      We currently are having financial adjustments to the economy, but life for almost everyone is infinitely better than it was during The Great Depression.
      I fear we have come to live in a time compression that deludes us into thinking that so many terrible things are happening and what we are really seeing is what happens when you try to make a homogenous whole out of 350 million disparate people. We are the third (I think) most populous nation on earth after China and India and like them we have very distinct ethnic groups, monetary interests, and philosophies.
      Frankly, I think “Make America Great” is a great Advertising gimmick that appeals to the downtrodden and those who want to think they are downtrodden.
      If we could find a true leader — one that a significant majority could admire — we might turn things around but so long as we stay nearly evenly split in two there can be no healing. And so long as we continue accelerating our sense of time, the duration of one election cycle will seem longer and longer and eventually people will say we just can’t live like this until the next guy/gal gets into office.

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      1. Peter, you really nailed it. People believe that things were better…when. I think the most common thought of America being great is the period post WWII. We were heroes, those who survived the war. We made it through the roughest time this nation has ever had when facing an enemy. The economy flourished at least that is how it seemed. So much of the support of the civilians back home was because they were being fed the war propaganda…if they had been told what was really going on in the battlefields, the response probably would have been similar to that of Vietnam…which was brought to your living room via television.

        After WWII, you didn’t hear about the extreme PTSD that soldiers had and how that affected their lives and their families. All the blacks who fought in the war got to return to segregation. People with disabilities, many war related were hidden from view. People lived in constant fear of what would happen with Russia during the Cold War…bomb shelters were created. I remember having air raid drills in grammar school.

        So much of what was really going on was swept under the rug. You only new about it if you were there. The social veneer was quite thick. In the sixties…it came off and people started saying what they thought.

        I have a post coming up in a couple of weeks about Woodstock and in it I talk about the state of the country during that time. A lot of bad things happened during that time but a lot of positive change, particularly with Civil Rights resulted.

        I think that’s true in every decade. A great leader would be nice. I actually can think of one who fits the bill but he didn’t run for office and he looks like he’ll have his hands full trying to create unity in a divided government, no matter who gets elected.

        I guess that is why I sort of close ranks with just a few friends and try to keep everyone trash out of my yard. It won’t help society but it will keep my mental health in tact.

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    2. I wonder if you saw the story about Soledad O’Brian’s rant about why the media are giving white supremacists air time? For all the appearances of civilization, there are still many ways in which we are a bigoted and backwards nation. FWIW

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      1. No, I hadn’t seen this. I have a real issue with media…even social media because half the world wants to fight and spews all the negativity around which really does no one any good.

        I have found people only get better when they have good positive reinforcement. Talk about what’s right in the world and people start acting more right. I believe in the good news report…at least having the balance be more positive than negative. Then we have enough umph to tackle life’s problems. When news is weighted on the negative side it throws the people into overwhelm…what can they do about it…it’s all bad…and they become apathetic.

        A good place to start healing this country would be start with what we can agree on and build from there.

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      2. Agreed 100% about the media. AND the way people respond if you give them positive things to think about.

        I think that is a huge part of the disillusionment of the nation. In the 50’s & 60’s the outlook was positive. And people went for it. Now, not so much and there is so much added regulation and safety legislation. I fear even the U.S. would not be what it is today if 60 years ago there had been the safety and environmental regulations that are in force now. Fear not from the standpoint of thinking the environmental stuff is bad — but from the standpoint that the infrastructure would never have gotten past the feasibility study.

        >

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      3. Agreed on regulation and past infrastructure…back then if you needed something done you did it with as highly technical people as were available. BTW, even going back into the 40s only good reports were forwarded…common practice was to only pass on good news and hardly mention if at all the bad…families were quite different back then. I believe it was called airing your dirty laundry…and people avoided that…now everything is the Springer show.

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