Tonawanda News

Columns

August 30, 2013

ADAMCZYK: Labor Day in a convent

Tonawanda News — What is it again? Oh, Labor Day, when we momentarily remember those mustachioed, marching trade unionists in overalls who brought us collective bargaining and weekends and the concept of overtime pay, before we run out and frantically enjoy ourselves at a picnic or barbecue or something.

Labor Day, the federal holiday set up to mollify the Pullman Porters Union in the 1890s, Congress choosing a date as far away on the calendar from May Day (the “international workers’ holiday”) as they could. 

Like most readers, your correspondent here can classify himself in a number of identifiable categories, which, in his case, include union member and working retiree, and he’s thinking about this great holiday with a twinge of nostalgia. In a society in which the fastest-growing segment of business is, so I am informed, the one-person independent shop, Labor Day has something of a wistful, sepia-toned feel to it. 

It is easier to recount the ancillary facets of Labor Day. Last true weekend of summer. That back-to-school vibe. Football season, implying autumn and upcoming rotten weather. Even if we ponder the meaning of providing honor to those willing to admit they genuinely work for a living instead of taking and making phone calls, it’s a momentary homage. In the 21st century we’ve taken the sweat out of this holiday.

There will be lip service paid by political animals to those whose backs bend and muscles tense to advance this country (funny how politicians rarely file Workman’s Comp cases), from the political class whose grasp on the Labor in Labor Day is a little weak and who definitely don’t want their children involved in labor, let alone in whatever is left of the labor movement. (Well, maybe a little while they’re young, to so they understand the value of a private college education.) Mostly, though, it’s an antiquated notion, like giving the butler and maid a day off, in a world in which work involves a lot of button-pushing and consensus-building around a concept: a day to honor those who do the country’s labor.

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