For those reading in the United States: Today is Labor Day. And before you start lighting the grill or emptying the pool (because it's the "official end of summer," which is the opposite of true), consider the meaning of the holiday.
Labor Day is not just about the value of hard work or the reward one gets from doing one's job well. Labor Day is about organized labor, something that has been under attack here for some time. And if you're offended by political discussions of any kind, this might be the time to stop reading this post. Because although writing books is my labor, that's not what I'm posting about this week.
We Americans like to believe that we value a day's work. But a look back into history from not all that long ago will indicate that perhaps that isn't always the case. We are happy to have the fruits of labor, ours and others', but until labor started to organize itself it was possible to undervalue a day's work in any number of horrifying ways.
Children could be made to work in factories. Workers could be required to labor under dangerous conditions for absurd numbers of hours without a break. Weekends were not sacrosanct. Neither were lunch hours, coffee breaks or safety regulations that kept going to work from being a hazard to your health or a serious threat to your life.
Let's not even discuss wages. Because you really couldn't then.
Organized labor (that is--brace yourself for the word--unions) made it possible to work hard and still have a life outside work. Negotiation with management made work something that produced the desired effect without destroying the people who created it. Labor unions are to thank for the five-day work week. The nine-hour work day. The lunch break. The illegality of sweatshop conditions.
Are there some labor unions whose leadership has become corrupt? Of course there are. But the idea that the abolition of unions will lead to the market regulating itself is absurd. If the past 100 years have taught us anything, it is that greed is a drug, and once given access to it, users will go to any lengths to increase their supply. The product of such conditions is a battered work force and decreased productivity.
So yes, say thank you to workers you know. Say thank you to yourself if you're working. Have respect for people who do their jobs every day, not just on Labor Day.
And remember that this day is also meant as a reminder: Protect the rights of laborers, because without them we are vastly diminished.
Happy Labor Day, everybody.