Labor Day Musings

This is a post that should have gone up on August 31st. But I ran errands before work and, well, these things happen.

Instead of recapping last week, which wasn’t that memorable, I’ll write about Labor Day as a holiday.

Labor Day was a holiday I used to view with a bit of skepticism.

When I was a kid, we started back to school in the sweltering temperatures of mid-August in Arizona. While TV shows and movies showed me that lots of communities made a big deal out of Labor Day and its connections to back to school, my classmates and I had already bid farewell to summer. For that reason, Labor Day was just this quirky little three-day weekend that didn’t really matter much.

As a teenager and young adult, I heard angry mutterings about Labor Day’s socialist roots. Politically conservative people compared the U.S. celebrating Labor Day to the USSR’s May Day parades of tanks and soldiers. In other words, having a Labor Day holiday meant we were that much closer to becoming a communist country because we took a day off to thank laborers for their work. Perhaps the most surprising thing is the people I heard say this were mostly blue-collar workers.

Granted, Labor Day’s started in the attempts to organize workers into unions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Union organizers wanted to demonstrate how important their members were, and more than a few of the early organizers were socialist or communist in their leanings.

But I can’t quite manage the mental gymnastics required to make sense of protesting Labor Day. If you’re someone who understands how hard laborers work for their pay, why wouldn’t you want a holiday recognizing that work? I can’t really get my head around it unless it’s some holdover from the Cold War and the McCarthy/HUAC nonsense. Because it was suggested by union organizers, some of whom were communists, then it must be evil, right?

This is the same mentality that wants to get rid of Social Security, welfare, the 40-hour work week, and pay equity. Seven years ago, a prominent conservative politician, Newt Gingrich, stated that child-labor laws were too strict. I keep expecting someone like Rand Paul to say that we need to get rid of paid sick leave and vacation time too.

All of these benefits were brought to U.S. workers because of labor unions and progressive political figures. Some were progressive Republicans (back when the GOP was the more progressive party). Others were progressive Democrats. And yes, some were communists or socialists.

For my part, I’ve come to be grateful for Labor Day. A three-day weekend is always appreciated whenever it comes along. More importantly, I value the holiday for its opportunity to pause and reflect on what labor is. It gives me a chance to think about who does the more distasteful and difficult jobs in my community. It’s a chance to remember my roots and reflect on how far I’ve come from them. And, it’s an opportunity to consider what kind of future I want to leave for the next generation of workers in the U.S.

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