I look forward to Labor Day every year. It’s the unofficial end of summer, and I don’t like summer. It means the US Open is happening, and I love the US Open. It means the baseball pennant races are heating up, and I love baseball. It means a day off of work. I didn’t always look forward to Labor Day. It also means the beginning of school, and I hated school. The one thing it never meant to me, and I think this is true of most people my age and younger, is anything about organized labor or the labor movement.
In a lot of ways it is an odd holiday for Americans to celebrate. Reagan went a long ways towards killing labor when I was too young to understand what was happening. Ever since, American attitudes toward labor have ranged from disinterest to open hostility. Even the unions that still function are far more interested in getting what they can for their specific members than doing anything for labor as a whole. Yet, here we are again, supposedly celebrating labor.
Why isn’t there a union representing workers in the financial services? Restaurants? Retail? Or any of the myriad jobs where people work too hard and get too little?* The Occupy movement was constantly (and rightly) criticized for not having a focus or discernable purpose. Starting a new labor movement would have been perfect for them. Lack of a labor movement is one of the key differences between the relative equality of the mid-twentieth century and the rampant inequality before and after. Anyone who is worried about the 1%/99% divide ought to be worried about labor.
Anyway, that is what I’ll be mulling over in the back of my mind as I watch tennis and baseball and get ready for another work week to start tomorrow.
*I know there are unions that try in some of these industries. But they are not very organized or successful.