Labor Day Observations 2021

The labor movement has been a boon to the craftsmen and craftswomen in the western world. Let’s remind ourselves of the reasons why.

The standing of labor had its fits and starts and multiple setbacks, but the sense of what fairness is has a way of persevering.

The labor practices of the bad old days are quite stark. Child labor, particularly in coal mines were a scandal of epoch proportions. The coal mine companies liked using children in mines because they were small and could crawl into the narrow veins of coal, they were also fearless of the dangers, and they were utterly powerless. We otherwise think of the labor movement as a struggle to get fair wages and benefits and of course it is that. Of equal importance, it is the establishment of deserved respect for the working people of the country.

The only wealth that is ever created is with the brains in our heads and the skill of our hands. Other than that, there is no wealth. Wall street executives, corporate leaders, lawyers, and accountants are all able to demand good compensation and they all may very well be needed in our society, but they create no wealth.

On the other hand, that crew of workers that are finishing the work on your new house created a substantial amount of wealth. Are they fairly compensated? Perhaps, but what they get is what they are able to negotiate from the general contractor or by rules of the local union.

It is interesting that those people who spoke on the behalf of labor have for the most part have been laboring people themselves. But here is an intellectual sense of equitable treatment of our fellow citizens, and that is the motivation of people such as the Roosevelts. TR Roosevelt saw the trend to monopoly as a detriment of the common citizen. His efforts to curtail monopolies created competition which had the effect of making products less expensive and more available.

Franklin Roosevelt was the champion of the working class more directly. Were these men doing these things for their own political gain? Perhaps, but those are examples of political drives that are good for the country. I am more of the mind that personal values were the larger motivating factors for them.

FDR sought dignity for working people by having them create durable infrastructure such as the two draw bridges that were built in my childhood neighborhood on Jamaica Bay. They built very durable post office buildings as well as a number of other federal building projects. That is not all. Writers were employed to write plays and artists were asked to paint pictures depicting moments in American history in federally owned post offices. Young men were sent into the countryside to plant trees.

The point of these efforts was the recognition that there is dignity in work. We sometimes hear people speak about work as something to be avoided, it is not, it is something to be embraced, with the understanding that work should be properly compensated.

The closing point is there is dignity in work-all work. Enjoy your Labor Day.