By Frank Blechman
When my children were small, I taught them that holidays on the civil calendar are monuments to political strength. Columbus Day, for example, only became a ‘thing’ in places with large enough Italian-American communities to make it ‘a thing’. The 4th of July and George Washington’s birthday were observed by a few, until they got big enough to invite participation by all. MLK’s birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, all happened because enough people supported their observation to demand political recognition.
Labor Day, which we observe today, is no exception. While Europeans hailed May 1st as the international day of rest for all working people, the American labor movement agreed to a holiday at the end of summer.
Most now enjoy the three-day weekend as a mini-vacation from work, rather than a celebration of the power of organized working people. I try to do a bit of both. I thank the organized labor movement for giving me: an end to child labor, the 40-hour work week, paid vacations, paid health insurance, Social Security, Medicare, and the weekend.
I thank the organized labor movement for giving me: an end to child labor, the 40-hour work week, paid vacations, paid health insurance, Social Security, Medicare, and the weekend…. I also thank organized labor for their support of other movements, such as the civil rights struggle of the 1950s and ‘60s.
I also thank organized labor for their support of other movements, such as the civil rights struggle of the 1950s and ‘60s. Watching coverage of the “commitment march” last week, I was surprised that few commentators noted that the 1963 event (which they copied) was a march for “jobs and justice.” Much of the organizing and mobilization was done by labor groups, and as many of the marchers were Northern workers as Southern warriors. Many of the leaders of the civil rights struggle learned organizing for their involvement in labor unions, from A. Philip Randolph to James Orange.
I cannot say that my children spend their holiday thinking deeply about the political movements that shape their lives or give them a Monday off every once in a while. Yet I remember, and I will remind them. It’s the least I can do.