Saturday, September 4, 2010

Labor Day Conflict

I had been putting forth considerable effort in the last week in training for a new career, so I was more than little grateful yesterday with the realization that there would be a three day weekend to recharge my batteries. (I was also feeling a little smug over the timing of this mini vacation, in spite of the fact that I had little or nothing to do with it.) 

Recognizing that 'there is no such thing as a free lunch' however, I could not help but realize that there would invariably be a price to pay for the fortunate circumstance of my first paid work holiday. The bill didn't take long to show up. You see, the joy of this short furlough from my labors made me curious as to their cause (and curiosity is normally a dangerous thing)

As with I am sure many of you out there, I had long taken the concept of a "Labor Day" weekend for granted. As kids, Labor Day traditionally marked the end of summer vacation and the beginning of school. While schools around the country can now begin a little earlier or later depending on the vagaries of state attendance requirements (and since most of those in government education camps are no longer required to work the harvest with their parents), the necessity of reducing the costs of climate control for their buildings, and the prognostications of weather guessers as to how many bad weather days will be required during the school year; most openings still closely mirror in some way this three day weekend. 

It is also the traditional weekend for the closing of outdoor swimming pools in much of the country, in spite of the fact that often there is still plenty of warm weather to follow. Like the opening of school, this was a heartfelt tragedy of youth for many of us, as swimming pools were both a source of entertainment and a summer refuge for many us. As we grew older, these sites even became educational; as we gradually began to recognize the necessity social networking (though we just called it 'hanging out with our friends' at the time) and the increasing hormonal challenges that were eventually presented by a burgeoning maturity. I had never bothered then, nor do I recollect ever being taught at the time, what it was that the actual holiday symbolized. 

Having opened this Pandora's Box however, I was now bound to perform the research (and write about it). Now according to the definitive (but sometimes questionable) source Wikipedia, Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894, with legislation rushed through Congress a mere six days after the ending of the Pullman Strike (back when Congress didn't rush most of the legislation that it writes through)

The idea apparently was to create a holiday as a peace offering to labor unions that had suffered mistreatment and death at the hands of the military and US Marshalls during this strike. The September date was chosen apparently, in order to prevent potential confusion with the May Day (or International Workers Day) celebrations; which not only carried overt Communist connotations, but carried the additional baggage of commemorating the violence that erupted during yet another labor strike and demonstration, the Haymarket Affair of 1886. 

The bottom line here apparently, is that the holiday that we are all currently enjoying was manufactured by the federal government as a way of distancing itself from the abuse that it had committed in the name of, and as a small punishment to the 'big business' interests that it far too often finds itself under the thumb of. It was likewise seen as a sop to the labor movement in this country that it alternately and frequently finds itself in the same position with. (This is the kind of distasteful and tainted process that makes Hallmark's avaricious efforts at holiday creation seem almost saintly by comparison.) 

Now I have made no secret of my opinions of the labor movement in the past, but one cannot help but concede at least a modicum of sympathy to union labor in this case. While I am sure that not all of the actions perpetrated by striking workers were laudable and that a close examination of the facts at the time would find plenty of fodder for recriminations on both sides, one cannot help but be sympathetic (and even to admire) those willing to be injured or even killed while standing up for their beliefs and what they felt were their rights. 

Much like the contention from which it was born, I cannot help but feel conflicting emotions as I enjoy the rest and respite provided as a result of this Labor Day holiday. While certainly appreciative of the short breather provided by this holiday, I am disdainful of the concept of celebrating organized labor at a time when we force two of what are considered this country's most famous presidents to share a holiday. While I am more than willing to accept the temporary ease provided to write this piece, I must admit to feelings of remorse at its source. 

Perhaps I should instead acknowledge the guilty pleasure of an unasked for gift from the hands of my oft-stated enemy, accept it as a form of absolution for the embarrassed confession that I make here, and simply enjoy what promises to be a gorgeous weekend here in the Kansas City area. Then again, that might be doing too much work ...


Roland Hansen said...

Amigo Tim,

You state Recognizing that 'there is no such thing as a free lunch'to which I reply:
There would be if you would let us liberals have our way.

Oh, as a Union man, myself, I also proudly assert: "In union, there is strength."

It is so beautiful that you and I can have different perspectives and be friends. And after all, we do desire the same goals, just different views on how to get there.

Take care amigo and enjoy your well-earned Labor Day.

Tim Higgins said...

Amigo Roland,

I'm not sure that we completely disagree on unions, except historically. I believe there was a time that organizing labor unions was a necessary thing. I also believe that much like government, they forgotten or abandoned their original mission and have mutated into yet another bloated self-perpetuating bureaucracy.

I have to admit that you have me on the 'free lunch' comment however, and agree that it is a beautiful thing that two people can disagree on the method of achieving a common goal and remain friends while participating in healthy debate on the subject.

mud_rake said...

Speaking of 'free lunch,' did you get a chance to buy or get Free Lunch by David Cay Johnston from the library? I suggested the book a few weeks ago.

Tim Higgins said...


My reading list has been more than full of late, but I have it noted and will get to it sooner or later.