Monday, September 03, 2007

Some Labor Day musings

Today, we celebrate many things.

We celebrate one final weekend of summer. We celebrate the fact that we do not have classes today, and that most of us do not have to work.

But have you ever thought about why today is a holiday? Why do we take today off? What does 'Labor Day' mean? Sure, Labor Day is about labor - working people - but what more is there to it than that?

As labor leader Samuel Gompers said:
"Labor Day differs in every essential way from the other holidays of the year in any country. All other holidays are in a more or less degree connected with conflicts and battles of man's prowess over man, of strife and discord for greed and power, of glories achieved by one nation over another. Labor Day...is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation."
Put simply, Labor Day is about ordinary workers - my grandfather, an UAW member who worked at the Ford factory in Dearborn; John Edwards's father, who worked in the mills; and the people who lost their lives in the mine tragedy in Utah last month.

When you think about it, this country has traditionally been about ordinary people. What was so extraordinary about Thomas Jefferson or any of the Founding Fathers? Not much, until they decided to band together and reject the tyranny of the British monarchy. Same with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony before the Women's Suffrage Movement. Or Harriet Tubman, or Cesar Chavez, or Martin Luther King and the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.

In addition to showing us that ordinary people like you and me can lead extraordinary lives, they also remind us that our country is built on the blood, sweat, and tears of ordinary people. As much as we owe our freedom to the many men and women of the United States Armed Forces, we also owe the very fact that we have food to eat, cars to drive, roads to drive them on, homes to live in, buildings to work and study in, and beds to sleep in to the people who comprise the American workforce.

Imagine a country with no janitors, no carpenters, no farmers, no factory workers.

America would be a pretty dull place without them, wouldn't they?

So as you celebrate the unofficial end of summer - which you should! - remember the people who have built this country into the economic powerhouse that it is. Not the politicians, not the celebrities, not the sports stars or the reality-TV personalities. It is, rather, the average Joe/Jane who works a 9-5 job just so (s)he can put a roof over her family's head and food on their table.

They are the ones who built this nation. Happy Labor Day!

I encourage you to read this Labor Day statement by Democratic Party Chair Howard Dean. Also, for some interesting facts on labor unions' impact on workers, see this page from the AFL-CIO.

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