Labor Day and what we fight for

I'm not really in a foul mood right now, but I feel as though I have a lot of negativity in me that I need to lance and be rid of. It's been a stressful couple of weeks and the long weekend couldn't come soon enough. It also couldn't be long enough, but I'll take what I can get.

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Let's start with the important stuff: The history behind Labor Day is not for the faint of heart. It was already a state holiday in more than two-thirds of the states when Grover Cleveland made it a federal holiday. His reason for doing so was that he sought to appease trade unions "...following the deaths of workers at the hands of United States Army and United States Marshals Service during the Pullman Strike of 1894 in Chicago." * If that sentence doesn't give you chills... He chose the first Monday in September instead of the more common first of May because of the way that the international workers' movements were using that day to commemorate the Haymarket massacre, also in Chicago.

My point is that the history of organized labor is largely a history of workers fighting against employers who are backed by the media, by the military, and by their own considerable wealth. These days, the influence of unions waning. Much of what they fought for has been undone. When you see labor ridiculed in the press, think about who controls the message and how they might benefit from it. I know very few people who don't regularly work after hours, on weekends, or more than forty hours in a given week without the benefit of overtime. The shift from a manual labor economy to one involving offices has hidden the distinction who is "labor" and who is not. One thing is certain: If you do not own the business or benefit directly from its success, you are "labor."

On a very similar note, please pay close attention to the Dakota Access Pipeline standoff. It's not a labor struggle, but it has many of the same characteristics. A company, backed by the forceful side of the government, is using violence to respond to protests against their actions. The major news outlets haven't chimed in, hence the Buzzfeed link. So, different issue, but same dynamic. Based on what I've read, the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies deserve my support and today's a good day to see what I can do to help.

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When thinking about the story of Sisyphus, I always forget that he's already dead when he's set to the task of rolling the ball up the hill. So much for the sweet release of death, huh? Anyway, until recently, I'd believed that his story was the best metaphor for "work" that western civilization had devised. That was prior to my seeing Terry Gilliam's The Zero Theorem:

Above: Perhaps the most appropriate Labor Day video clip ever.

I bring this up because I've recently had some small success doing work I truly love. Actually, for it to be "work," I supposed I'd need to be paid. There have been enough instances of proper work not resulting in pay that the distinction is a little fuzzy. Anyway, it's a bit strange that all of the success I've had has been limited to one very small subsection of the business and this recent example is no exception. The dots are so few and far apart that I'm not sure they constitute a pattern, but it's curious and I may focus a little more and see if it's a niche for me or just a coincidence.

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I guess that's it for tonight. Sorry for meandering there. I hope you had a lovely holiday. Labor Day is, of course, an important holiday, but it is a holiday and that means spend some time with loved ones and maybe try not to think so much about work..**

-RK

 

* The Pullman plant was a marvelous example of the "company store" culturewhich has mostly disappeared from the U.S. Workers lived in a Pullman town, lived in Pullman housing (they were forbidden to build or own their own), bought from a Pullman company store, all at prices set by the Pullman corporation. Said prices tended to remain high even when wages were slashed, hence the strike in 1894. In a company store setup, workers weren't technically slaves, but they were forced to subsist on wages that wouldn't quite pay the bills. The company would, of course, loan them the money, knowing that it was impossible to earn enough to get out of debt and, well, there were still debtors prisons in those days. This practice was by no means limited to the Pullman company.
 

** At the very least, try not to think about that email you received on Labor Day informing you that a very time-consuming bit of work would be required of you first thing Tuesday, so sorry, not our fault, ownership asked for it, so what can we do, have a great holiday! Do not think of that at all. It would just ruin your holiday.