A Rumination on Labor Day

I have written in another place about Labor Day, about the commemorations of working folks and the organizations that allowed them to gain some traction against the rapaciousness of ownership and management that plagued days past, as well as the consumerism that has risen to take the place thereof. We are united more in buying the products of labor devalued than in promoting the dignity and worth of that labor–and, maugre the heads of those who want to talk about “respect” for the worker, the only measure of regard that seems to matter remains money, and most folks chafe at the cost of even “skilled” trade-work, let alone the “low-skill” work that makes most of their days proceed smoothly and well.

The "Burger Flipping" Rule — Free to Pursue
Because, of course, this kind of work doesn’t deserve any dignity…</sarcasm>
Image taken from Free to Pursue, used for commentary

As I might have noted elsewhere, I’m in a pretty good professional position at the moment. I head a nonprofit agency, small though it be, and it’s one that does good work. If there’s some difficulty in the offering, that’s true in most places. I am treated well by my employers (I answer to a board of trustees), and I work to treat my employees well (it’s a small nonprofit, so I can’t pay as much as might be hoped, and there are limited benefits, but I do what I can for them). I, at least directly, am relatively insulated from the conditions organized labor sought to address and still, in the limited ways available to it, works to amend.

It has not always been so, of course. I have been a union man (UAW Local 2110), and I have worked the kind of “low-skill” service jobs that attract so much attention through their employees’ calls for parity and higher wages. I have noted in those jobs the demands for perfection in every action; every footstep taken must be perfect, every gesture done just so, or “Let me talk to your manager” rings out in a quiscaline chorus that is all too familiar a refrain. “Low-skill” work isn’t, not when any perceived–not actual, just looking like it might be–misstep means the money stops.

As you ply the sales today, those who will, remember that the day is not supposed to be for you. It is supposed to be for those who have to face the croaking, rasping calls of “I know the owner” again and again. It is supposed to be for those whom I am told are moving towards striking tomorrow and the next day–and at whom you should not vent your anger. Because you are more like them than the ones against whom they strike, and their success will do more for you than the others’.

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