Happy Labor Day! Now Get Back to Work or, A Call to All for Justice


DSC01714Does anyone else find it incredibly ironic that the people who have to work on Labor Day are the people for which the day was created? It’s the laborers who still have to work to support the non-laborers who celebrate a day dedicated to laborers.

A person I know who is a manager at a national retailer (a big box chain) told me the story once of how he had to sit down and talk about personal hygiene with an employee. The employee had to stop the person and say he knew how to bathe, he just had to choose between food for his family or the water bill that week. He chose the food and thus couldn’t shower. Keep in mind, the person who told this to me is incredibly loyal to his company and an ardent conservative, so there was no hidden agenda.

As many people enjoy a day off tomorrow, many others will be hard at work to ensure that the others are able to enjoy that day off. Some are essential – such as police, doctors, firefighters, and the like – but others are completely non-essential. Their essential jobs are to make sure we can get our stuff checked out to enjoy our Labor Day sale, or put food on our plate at the restaurant after a long day of doing nothing.

The holiday was originally set aside to celebrate the contributions of organized labor, or unions, after the US Marshals and others killed a few laborers during a strike in the 1880s. Organized labor brought justice to work, or at least attempted to, during the Industrial Revolution; thus, Labor Day recognizes their contributions. The modern celebration is ironic because 28% of America’s workforce is in retail (considered a laborious job), but only 3% of workers are unionized. Considering that the US unemployment rate is at 6.3% (give or take), but at least 49% of Americans take some form of government assistance. Perhaps part of the problem for the rapid increase of poverty, or necessity of government assistance, is that the average retail worker working full time brings in $18,500 a year.

Now, while there are practical reasons for considering a wage increase in just the retail section alone (the aforementioned link shows that increasing wages for retail workers would actually benefit out economy and only cause a 1% increase in prices), we must first consider the ethical ramifications of what we’ve been doing to our economy and, more importantly, to ourselves. Labor Day was created to celebrate not just the work done by laborers, but more importantly, to celebrate laborers. People who work for a living, who do construction, who come and fix the toilet, who work on your car, who mow your yard, who clean up after you and your rotten children at a restaurant, who help you find the clothes you “need” to have, these are people that we treat differently: they’re servants. Though no one wants to realize it, we’ve done away with most of the middle class and shifted them to the servant class. Who cares if the servants aren’t paid well and are mistreated? Perhaps they ought to get a better job and an education to help achieve that better job, never mind the fact that if everyone did that then there’d be no one to mow the yard, to fix the car, or to fix the toilet (which would lead to a pretty crappy society).  Continue reading