Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day and Nothing to Celebrate

Harry Bridges Addresses a Crowd in
Civic Center, San Francisco, 1947.
Labor Day is here again, that weak, diluted step-child of May Day has fallen upon us once more bringing with it nothing but bad news.

In the USA today, the creation of new jobs has ceased, wages are reaching new lows, health benefits are disappearing and pensions are being taken away, barely a creature is stirring. The concept of populism has been radically redefined to mean working and poor people who have been persuaded to fight against their own interests.

I've also been thinking about issues of work destiny, the trajectory to which we each inherit. The fact is, I was born and raised to be a worker, not an owner or an entrepreneur. It was a given, unspoken, yet understood, even when my mother said, unconvincingly, that I could do whatever work I chose, the implication was always working for some firm or corporation.

The truth that I was groomed for my destiny came to me in my twenties when I was shooting the breeze with a friend whose family was, what was then called, "nouveau riche." Their money came from a chain of stores in New York. One day when we were talking about work, she told me several ideas that were knocking around in her brain: a pick-up and delivery service for disabled people, a chain of organic markets, a referral switchboard for therapists, things on that order. I was floored, amazed. She was truly a self-starter, a go-getter someone who would manage the teaming hordes one day. I, on the other hand, was a lackey, a prole, a terminal working stiff, someone who was continually told that I had no leadership qualities. As Bob Marley sang: "They take the chains off your body and put the chains on your mind."

For me, the die had been cast. I wasn't interested (or psychologically able) to start and run my own business. It was all I could do to just show up for work each day!

I have made the most of being a worker, taking advantage of CETA in the seventies and securing a public sector job with health benefits and pension in the eighties that I still have to this day. I represent a dying breed, the last remnants of the stable, American working class. Newer generations of workers now are expected to be satisfied with low wages, few benefits and some kind of 401K plan instead of a pension. It is both an impossibility and a disgrace.

The only way to "celebrate" labor day is to take back the jobs, salaries and benefits that we have been robbed of. Short of that, we can only mourn.