About Labor Day
Does Labor Day celebrate the labor movement in the United States?
Or is it now something else entirely? Just another day off for no real reason, a bookend for the summer, the end of a row of weeks that began with Memorial Day? Is it just about that "final" barbecue of the season? The chances that the team in first place will actually win the pennant? Is it about the closing of the places at the Jersey shore? Is it about some dead, historical movement, somebody else's organization, somebody else's long ago struggle? Is it just historical, a reference to distant things now taken for granted? Things like the 8 hour day, the weekend, overtime, sick leave, workers' compensation, OSHA, you know, things that are now, well, taken for granted? Is it about an organization of which I am no longer a member, but once was? Is it about something my great grandmother belonged to? Or is it something else?
Is it, for example, a reminder of the ongoing struggle to unionize Starbucks by the Industrial Workers of the World?
You know, the Wobblies. That's right. The same organization that gave us Joe Hill and Big Bill Haywood is now slowly organizing Baristas at Starbucks. It's a long, long way from the Haymarket Riots to Starbucks. But on some level it's still there, it's still happening.
It's sad that we tend not to remember where we have been. Or where our parents and grandparents have been. We don't remember the ugly things: child labor, the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, sweat shops, wage slavery, goons. We don't remember how to act collectively. We don't remember what it means to vote for a strike and how it feels to strike. We don't remember not to mourn, to organize. We don't remember to pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living. We don't remember the benefits we receive or how we got them. We cannot recall the enormous cost that was paid. We can't remember the strikes, the arrests, the cops, the skirmishes, the battles, the scabs. We cannot remember the names of people who fought. We cannot remember the rallies and songs. We can't recall the marches and demonstrations. We cannot even remember the picket lines.
We've got amnesia. Wouldn't it be something if we made time on Labor Day, this very Labor Day to think about and remember Unions?