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lunes, septiembre 05, 2011

Put The Labor Back In Labor Day

It’s the cultural end of the Summer. It’s the beginning of school. It’s a holiday. It’s the last summer barbecue. Maybe it’s a parade. It’s the Columbia County Fair. It’s the start of the football season. It’s the beginning of the Jersey Shore off-season. It’s the tomato harvest. It’s when you’re supposed to stop wearing white or seersucker. It’s called Labor Day, but it doesn’t seem to have a whole lot to do with labor. At least as far as the traditional media are concerned, as far as local celebrations go.

Occasionally, unions manage to make the point that Labor, organized and disorganized, has done a lot for US workers, unionized and not, in the past century. Labor’s struggles made significant improvements including the 8-hour day, overtime pay, the five-day work week, the weekend, vacations, occupational health and safety, the end to child labor, retirement. And on and on. You can easily expand this list. In other words, labor’s struggles led first to the creation and then to the expansion of the American middle class. And labor benefitted even workers who did not organize themselves and just profited from the workplace and cultural changes the unions fought for.

Labor Day shouldn’t be an historical relic in which we recall these seemingly distant struggles and their fruit. No. Workers continued to struggle in 2011 in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan to safeguard the rights to collective bargaining, to adequate compensation, to civilized fringe benefits like health insurance, to their retirement. To keep their jobs in an age of wanton government dismantling. The battles continue. And not just in the Midwest. You can even find it at Starbucks.

When the last grilled hot dogs and burgers of 2011 roll around on grills across America later this afternoon, when the last plastic glass of beer is filled, it would be nice to pause for just a second to acknowledge both labor’s contributions to our way of life and the necessity to continue to support the struggle. Maybe we could lift our glass in support of continuing the struggle for workers’ dignity.