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.
That 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.