I woke up this morning and did my usual travels around the world’s newspaper and television web sites. I peeked in at Facebook, glanced at Twitter, and checked domestically to see what the man who the Republican Senate kept in office by refusing to look at evidence was up to.
And then I shuddered, because nothing was pressing enough for me to avoid addressing the elephant in the room. Labor Day.
My birthday is marked around this time on the calendar, reminding me that I’ve been on this Earth for a little over a half of a century. During that span, this holiday has loomed large because of its proximity to my personal celebration.
Honestly, it annoys me. I don’t like Labor Day. I find the idea of celebrating the fact that people have jobs by giving them a day off to be irrational. I don’t like its origins in the rise of unions, and I don’t like the oppressive work conditions of the time that made those unions not only useful but necessary.
And, please, don’t bother to tell me that such conditions still exist. In the 1990s, after getting out of the Navy, I worked a low-paying, dangerous job testing high voltage power supplies coming off a production line. In addition to having chemical drums on the edge of walkways where forklifts occasionally drove, being the only person trained in CPR amidst a group of people working on high voltage equipment, and having to put out two fires during my year of employment, I had the joy of walking in one morning and being handed a painter’s mask… the reason? There was a large fire overnight and fumes and particulate (from fire suppressant chemicals and burned plastics) were still thick in the air.
I didn’t work that day; I turned around and went home. I was not reprimanded (I suspect they knew that payoffs to local and state officials only bought them limited protection) but I didn’t get paid, either… and that pay was critical. Not more critical than my health, however.
I’ve held jobs both enjoyable and terrible. I never felt the need to be celebrated for it. I’ve been forced to throw money at unions, even as they failed in their basic functions, because I was in New Jersey where they held sway. I am now in a right-to-work state, Texas, and for years I was in a union at my prior workspace. Not just as a member, either; I was a job steward.
I’ve watched as the union protected the jobs of those who deserved help… and those who absolutely did not. I’ve watched as it failed to do anything to members who were being abused, and stepped up in defense of people who knew the right union leaders. They are, like any other institutions, filled with stories and people both good and bad.
I’m not a union fan, but I’m not rabidly against them, either. What I do not support is a federal holiday elevating them.
That said, it’s a holiday in September, following almost two months without any federal holidays. It’s a convenient break time. If for no reason beyond that, it has love and appreciation throughout the country.
Enjoy your day off. Particularly across the length of the travails of 2020, it’s been earned. But while I’m normally in favor of devoting time to consider the origins of a holiday and the people it celebrates, I’d suggest instead that you just enjoy the break with friends and family. Maybe go get some ice cream to mark the unofficial end of summer.
If you must celebrate something, try “less than two months until the election.” That’s what makes me happy these days.