LABOR DAY SPECIALWork.
Sep. 1 - Today is Labor Day in the United States. (But not in Denmark.)
"Labor Day differs in every essential way from the other holidays of the year in any country," explained Samuel Gompers, founder of the American Federation of Labor. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Mr. Gompers elaborated further: "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."
And yet, despite Mr. Gompers's assertions, Labor Day is not a Seinfeldian holiday about nothing. It is, according to Department of Labor, "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."
Workers being whom, exactly?
Whenever someone talks about Labor with an audible capital L, I picture a bunch of sweaty, grease-stained steelworkers, or guys in blue overalls and goggles with soldering irons. Their contribution is the oft-cited "sweat of their brows." Union regulations being what they are, though, they seem to be pretty well compensated for that sweat.
The term "Workers" has to include more than steelworkers and welders—otherwise we could just call it "Steelworkers and Welders Day." After all, a worker is just "one who works." I'm a worker. Almost everyone I know is or was a worker.
The difference seems to be unions. If you belong to a union, you're a Worker or a Laborer (I'm not sure if they have different unions). If you don't belong to a union, you're a lousy shit-ass—an exploiting bourgeouis bastard.
Think what this means: Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Selma Hayek, and Madonna are Workers. Your friends who work awful hours at lousy jobs in wretched offices—they're bourgeouis scum.
I myself have had two jobs in which I worked under the auspices of a union, and therefore consider myself a Laborer in the heroic proletarian tradition. The first was in the late eighties at Logan Airport, where I worked as a cook in the employee cafeteria and had to pay dues to a local restaurant and hotel workers union. (It had a number—they all have numbers—but I don't remember it.) The role of my union was to keep telling me to get ready to walk off my job. In exchange for this service, they helped themselves to a sizeable chunk of my meager weekly paycheck.
The second was in southeast Connecticut during the early 1990s. I worked for a month or two on a printing press at R.R. Donnelly. I didn't work there long enough to have to join the union, but I did benefit from union regulations. Here's what my job consisted of: waiting until the pile of printed material on the output side of the press was about two feet tall, then lifting the pile, carrying it three feet, and setting it down on a pallet. Union regulations specified that I couldn't engage in this activity for more than fifteen minutes without taking a 15-minute break. I had just quit smoking (one of my first attempts) but had to spend my 15-minute breaks in a tiny break-room with a bunch of chain-smokers. I tried to overcome my desire to smoke by reading. I was going through the Russians at the time, and I remember sitting there with Gogol's Dead Souls and being asked repeatedly if it was about vampires or zombies.
I tried to explain the novel to anyone who asked. These guys weren't big readers, as a rule, and they sure as hell weren't conditioned to be receptive to Russian literature. But when I explained the basic plot of Dead Souls, of old Chichikov racing around Russia buying up all those dead serfs as part of some weird scam, they got more interested. I got one kid really excited about it. He wanted to borrow it from me right away, but I still hadn't finished it. (Neither had Gogol, but I didn't know that yet.) Anyway, the kid had already borrowed my copy of The Prince and still hadn't given it back. He never did. Lousy, thieving, self-improving bastard...
Anyway, I'm probably reading too much into things by separating union from non-union labor. Maybe union workers perform heroic Labor while the rest of us just do our lousy jobs, but it's a paltry distinction when you reflect that pretty much all of us are doing stuff we'd rather not do in order to make the money we need to do the stuff we want to do.
"The vital force of labor," says the Department of Labor website, "added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker."
I love America and I love the American worker. I've been an American worker most of my life. My family is full of them. I hope someday to have children who'll grow up into strapping American workers. But...
Instead of paying tribute to ourselves, since there are so goddam many of us, why don't we turn the thing around and vent our frustration on the lazy-assed American non-workers. Who the hell do they think they are? What the hell have they contributed? Nothing. Let's find them all and shame them into doing some goddam work.
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Today is the birthday of Gloria Estefan (1957), Barry Gibb (1946), Lily Tomlin (1939), Seiji Ozawa (1935), Rocky Marciano (1923), and Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875).
It's National Wattle Day in Australia, Revolution Anniversary in Libya, Constitution Day in Slovakia, and Independence Day in Uzbekistan.
© 2003, The Moron's Almanac