[Ed.: This post was originally published in November 2006, too late to really do justice to the topic, then again on Labor Day 2007, but again far too late: monday evening? 2008 was a total miss, but this year it's right on time - Friday afternoon, just as the weekend begins! Once again I give you, my more or less annual and timely Labor Day post, unedited and in its entirety, as a tribute to Labor Day everywhere. Have a safe and sane, everybody!]
Labor Day is nigh upon us again, and we're all in the mood to enjoy so many things. The waning days of summer...the first brisk hints of autumn in the air...cookouts, school semesters, a 3-day weekend...the start of the Football Season! So many things. Yet how many of us take time out to meditate on the whole purpose and theme of Labor Day? That's right! I think a little history lesson is in order.
As we know, the modern era of the Organized Labor Movement was born in strife and struggle. The largest, strongest league of workers in the country - the AFL-CIO - was troubled by the emergence of an upstart league calling itself the NFL-CIO. The battle for superiority between the two was fought in the court of public opinion. NFL-CIO officials charged that the established league had grown complacent and boring. The AFL-CIO countered with the claim that the new league was all flash and no substance - sure, they could put points on the board, the negotiating board, but what about defense? Could they hold onto those gains? Could they prevent the opposition from making gains? What about pounding it out in the trenches, getting the job done with a smash-mouth run-first approach to labor negotiations? Eventually, the war of words died down, and the two rival organizations merged to form a stronger whole. One that catered to both styles, but was plagued by pointless strikes, salary-cap disputes, and free agency.
Such is the unavoidable story when it comes to organized labor. But I think it holds a lesson for us all: the gains made are more than worth it. It is common knowledge on a bumper sticker seen frequently enough: "The Labor Movement: The folks who brought you the weekend." It's true. Before laborers banded together to force change, employers could make you work all over the place and whenever they wanted. Then came the weekend...and finally, we could all exhale a sigh of relief, for at least a couple days (or 3 days, in this case). Over time, that weekend became a deeply-embedded, ingrained part of our culture and our society.
But consider this: walking among us, almost impossible to distinguish with the naked eye, are people who do not observe the traditional Saturday/Sunday weekend. Some of them are waiters. Others are emergency workers. Others attend gas stations, or provide security at functions. There are a whole host of businesses that remain open on Saturday and Sunday, and whose staffs must perforce toggle their schedules to cover those shifts. They end up with weekends on Monday and Tuesday, or in the middle of the week, or at random times. They go to work on Saturday and Sunday and sleep in on days you or I might be at work. Our first impulse is to let our hearts go out in sympathy for these poor folks, and it's a good impulse. But consider this: owing to their weaker ties to society at large, these people may very well be more likely to be sociopaths.
I think it's important to think about. I think it's important to meditate on the various aspects of labor, and the workplace, and the workforce, and particularly our heritage regarding these important things and ideas. And if you see any organized laborers over the next few days, take some time out to give them a big thanks on behalf of a grateful nation. Organized Labor: The Folks Who Brought You A 3-Day Weekend.
Here's to ya.
note from the management: We apologize for the delay in publication on this feature. My volunteer fact-checker went on strike. I can't be certain at this point, but I think she might be a sociopath. I have certain suspicions.