Work, work, work

By Barbara Simpson

So it’s Labor Day and we do what any red-blooded American does – take the day off. Not only do we take the day off, we have a weekend holiday.

Check that. It’s not a weekend, it’s a L-O-N-G weekend, because the holiday is on a Monday. Voila – a three-day hiatus in our slaving to pay taxes to Uncle Sam.

But that’s not the whole story. We Americans start the long weekend early. Friday traffic starts midday, sometimes earlier. The goal is to get out of town Friday so that the “holiday” weekend can be spent entirely in leisure.

If you look at the newspapers, you know it’s Labor Day. What does that mean? Well, if you dropped in from Mars, you’d think it’s a time to spend money. The papers are filled with advertising supplements.

Sale? You want a sale? Just look. Everyone, it appears, is having big, blow-out, end-of-summer, end of season, inventory clear-out sales. I said SALES! In other words, spend your money – and spend it here!

It always strikes me odd that while there’s all this attention to spending money on Labor Day weekend (in truth, on every other legal holiday as well), there’s virtually no attention to how you earn the money. No work, no money.

There’s virtually no mention in the news about the reason for the holiday. It is, after all Labor Day – a day to honor working people.

It’s been around 108 years. The idea was suggested by New Jersey machinist Matthew Maguire and New York carpenter Peter J. McGuire, who helped form the carpenters union.

The first Labor Day parade was in New York City in 1882. Oregon was first to make it a legal holiday five years later. It became a national holiday in 1894 in a bill signed by President Grover Cleveland.

Is that what it is, or has it become an old holiday with no current meaning in this wonderful, modern world of the new century? More likely the latter, given the propensity of our schools to leave out a lot of what they should be teaching children.

Try these out on your kids. Forget that – try these out on your friends. Would they recognize any of these or know what they are? N.L.R.B. Wagner Act. Taft-Hartley Act. Right-to-Work Law. Landrum-Griffin Act. AFL. CIO. UMW.

How about some names: Samuel Gompers, Eugene Debs, Fiorello H. La Guardia, Robert Wagner, John L. Lewis, Robert A. Taft, Fred A. Hartley, Jr., Walter Reuther, George Meany?

I’d wager it’s safe to say most people have never heard of any of them or who they were or what they did. All that’s old stuff, and they’re white guys.

Probably the only two they might have heard of are the United Farm Workers union and Cesar Chavez, the founder. But that’s because they’re still current and the sentiment is for – how shall I say it? – workers of certain ethnicity, not to say nationality.

But are we forgetting the real history of the labor movement in this country and the original need for workers to have some strength in dealing with management? I think so.

Things today are pretty good with all the contracts and benefits and retirement benefits. We forget that our grandparents and parents didn’t have it so easy – in fact, it was pretty rough.

You don’t have to agree with the politics of those in the labor movement (indeed there were communists) but you should know who they were and what they did. It gives perspective on where we are today.

And where are we? As I write this, baseball players and management just settled their union dispute. Baseball players?! Yes, and other sports teams too.

There are medical unions, teacher unions, graduate teaching assistant unions, unions of federal workers, homeless unions and even unions for people who aren’t citizens. Don’t even ask how many of them are also illegal!

Is it out of control? Yes. Have unions gotten fat and happy controlling the businesses they deal with as well as their own members? Yes. Have unions gotten so involved in politics and politically correct social issues that they’ve lost track of their real purpose? Yes. Is there a lot of money involved? Yes, and sadly, often not for the benefit of members. Remember them?

They’re the reason for unions in the first place. They’re the ones honored on Labor Day. Give them a thought. Union or not, you’re probably one of them.