Monday, September 3, 2012

The Irony of Labor Day

I have often thought that the way we tend to shunt aside problems is to crystallize them as holidays. Once the problem is a holiday, to which we can pay lip service once, annually, as we pour out our alcoholic libations, we put it completely out of mind. Labor Day is a case in point.

Labor Day has been celebrated nationally since 1882, if you can believe it.

The U.S. Department of Labor offers this explanation for the holiday:

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

The irony is that Americans celebrate American Labor with a holiday observance while international business and government batter away at the average laborer's ability to earn a living wage under conditions that are safe and humane.

There is no sadder testament to this truth than the fact that California still has no legislation to insure that shade and water are provided for agricultural workers in the fields. This is not a new issue. I can remember marching with my parents in solidarity with farm workers in the 1960s and 1970s. A great many American authors, Sinclair and Steinbeck among many others, outline in their novels—often in shocking detail—how bosses and their political cronies take advantage of people in the workplace, wherever that may be—whether in the fields or in any office nationwide.

When you go to your local farmer’s market and purchase the “amazing” organic produce that you love to eat, remember those who harvest the food that sustains you. While you are attending your barbeques, watching ball games, try to remember that Labor really does sustain the world we take for granted, and that we are all the laborers of the fields of life.

And then think for a minute: How is your workplace treating you? In our hyper-connected high tech world, chances are you are tethered to your job more than you might want to admit, and being compensated a lot less for the amount of time you tend your job. It is well worth thinking about.

On this day, put yourself in the sandals of a worker in another industry, for just a moment.

And say a prayer of thanks for all who labor.