Labor Day

Those who do not know their history are condemned to repeat it.

Here in the USA its a holiday, Labor Day, that is. We celebrate organized labor’s achievements even as we continue to ship the majority of their work overseas as fast as we can. 

Actually, that’s not true: few people really understand what Labor Day is convinced it’s just another gimmick created by mass merchants to signal the end of summer in North America and commence the holiday buying season (chock full of merchandise made overseas) How do I know? I saw my first Christmas ad on 2 Sep.

But I digress.

We celebrate a holiday called Labor Day even as we despise organized labor. Union membership continues to trend downward as right wing politicos target law and regulations making it harder and harder for employees in both the public and private sectors to organize or, if already completed, to stay that way. As if a rite of passage business and HR people both conclude without use of critical thought that organized workplaces are an evil to be dismissed or avoided. We take it as gospel even though we don’t know our scripture.

The labor movement isn’t cohesive worldwide. What’s called labor (or unions) in Asia is very different from South America which is very different from Europe which is very different than the US. But here in the States we know this: we enjoy the bounty of labor’s efforts even as we deride them.

Enjoy a five day week? Labor got that for you. Healthcare? Labor. Benefits? Labor again. Many of the things we take for granted in the modern white-collar workforce were derived from the blood, sweat and tears of labor years ago. Strikers were killed to make cars. Have you thought about that? 

I’m amazed at our own willful ignorance. We hold Henry Ford up as a model for his $5 a day work plan. “So his employees could buy his cars!” we shout.

Don’t be ridiculous: Ford introduced $5 a day in response to his 500% annualized turnover which was an outcome of his dehumanizing work conditions. 500%: still think your 20% is high?

Labor’s corrupt you argue. Yes and no. There is no Pollyanna. But were the non-labor management brains behind Enron, Adelphia, the mortgage scandal and countless other schemes less corrupt because they were unorganized? Were they somehow different or better  because they required no dues from employees? Tell that to the millions of people who lost homes, savings and retirement accounts when the “good guys” in these Union-free environments created their own rules.

Without telling anybody.

Labor is not sacrosanct any more than Union-free environments are. At least in the US the rise of labor was caused primarily by unchecked greed, lust and avarice of owners. (Similar to the early 2000’s for example.) Labor’s purpose was to check that wanton greed and provide health and wealth for workers. Were mistakes made, curruption started, goals confused? 

Yes. On both sides.

But on this Labor Day as you finish the summer’s festivities and prepare for the fall buying season (Christmas) maybe you could take just a minute or two and recognize the goodness you enjoy as a result of Labor’s earlier work.

Those who do not know history…

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4 thoughts on “Labor Day

  1. As usual, Christopher provides a history lesson & challenges conventional thinking with regards to Labor. Great piece of work!

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