Monday, September 5, 2016

Remembering the Reason Behind Labor Day Weekend

Okay, yes, summer is basically over now. I know officially, it is not over, and there still remains a good couple of weeks or so before it officially becomes autumn. But for all intents and purposes, Labor Day marks the de facto end of summer. Vacation season is over, school is about to begin again, the days are growing shorter, and the weather is getting cooler (at least in the northern hemisphere, it is).

There is one thing that I wanted to acknowledge about this particular holiday weekend, however, and that is that Labor Day should be honored and remembered, every bit as much as the various holidays honoring military veterans. We see reminders for the sacrifices of members of the military, particularly for those who fought in wars, and that is fine.

But unions have been demonized for entirely too long in the United States. Republicans, including current presidential hopeful Scott Walker, among others, are well known for their opposition to unions, and their union busting methods. Many Americans dismiss unions as virtual criminal organizations, and blast them on charges of corruption (although funnily enough, they do not seem to be nearly as bothered when politicians that they themselves support show evidence of being guilty of corruption). Walmart has closed stores almost as soon as employees at certain Walmart locations managed to achieve unions, and if that is not a prime example of corporate intimidation, then I do not know what is.

Let us remember our history, and let us open our eyes to certain realities that still exist in the world today.  Not long ago in many now advanced, industrialized nations that enjoy a high standard of living today, there were no labor laws. Work days were much, much longer, anywhere from 10 hours a day to 12 hours a day. Pay was low, benefits nonexistent, and there were no weekends. No safety regulations, either. No health benefits, and no laws preventing children from working.

Look at us now. Whatever the problems that each industrialized nation is now facing, children receive an education, first and foremost. Most of these countries have some sort of minimum wage (although the minimum wage in the United States is widely discredited as not qualifying as a living wage), and all have laws preventing child labor. Each country has laws to provide certain benefits to citizens, including social security and pensions and medical benefits and vacation time. The United States has a 40-hour work week, as do many other countries, and some have even shorter weeks. Also, most people have weekends off.

That, I believe, strongly qualifies as progress. That does not mean that we should be lulled to sleep, and to take things for granted. As Jefferson said, each generation needs to stir things up, in order to keep things fresh, and keep on their toes to fight the inevitable encroachments of these freedoms and liberties that powers that be will inevitably attack and go after.

Still, that said, I think we should take time to think about all that we have gained, and to be thankful for it. To recognize it for what it is: a victory. We do not live in the same, extremely difficult circumstances and poor working conditions as our ancestors did generations ago. That, in large part, is because of unions that worked tirelessly against very powerful and greedy forces working to undermine them every step of the way. This was a fight that did not come easily, or without sacrifice, but it was a necessary fight. We are enjoying the fruits of that victory today, although it is constantly under attack, especially in the United States.

Let us recognize the necessity of unions today, and recognize the bona fide successes that unions managed to give us. It is the reason that we were able to enjoy a three day weekend, and the reason that we are able to enjoy as much free time on the weekends in general as we do. We may take that for granted these days, but we do not have to look back too far on the past to see that this was not always the case. Nor do we have to travel very far in this ever shrinking world to see that these same rights and benefits do not extend to everyone. There are plenty of third world countries out there where exploitation and child labor and working for virtual slave wages with absolutely no benefits are the norm, and we would do well to keep that in mind, as an example of the alternative that awaits us, if we take these hard won gains for granted.

So today, the day after Labor Day, I take a moment to recognize the real meaning behind Labor Day, and why we should celebrate this holiday beyond the back yard barbecues and shopping sales. It means something much, much more than all of that, and we should take a moment to reflect and remember that.

No comments:

Post a Comment