Yesterday was Labor Day hereabouts, an American national holiday when most people enjoy a final long weekend of summer, barbecues and beer, stretch out on a blanket at the beach, catch a game in the sunshine. As with many of our national holidays, the intended meaning of the day has been largely lost to the reality of a long weekend of rest and recreation.
And, in this case especially, that’s a national shame.
This holiday was created to honor labor, organized labor, hardworking people who built cars and roads and bridges and the high-quality manufactured products that used to be made here in the United States. Their fairly-paid and stable jobs created a market for goods and services our economy had never previously known. Organized labor created what was by far the largest engine for economic growth and demand in America. More, they created the expectations we have about our worklives, and which we very much take for granted today.
Before labor organized and exerted influence on the way businesses were run (often, sadly, at the sacrifice of their own lives), too many forget, working days weren’t expected to be ‘only’ 8 hours long, children were forced into work and workplaces were unregulated hell-holes of unbreathable air and ubiquitous (and often fatal) hazards. And these humane working conditions, thought unaffordable luxuries by the monied capitalists of the day, came to be commonplace, not only for labor union members but for all of the workforce.
Before organized labor:
No weekends, much less long ones.
No minimum wage.
Children losing their childhoods to near-slavery.
No safety rules or inspections.
Again and again, I hear in political speeches calls for a return to pre-union laissez-faire capitalism. Does anyone really want to go back to those ‘simpler’ times?