Tuesday, September 05, 2006

LABOR DAY LABOUR DAY

Since I have recorded my thoughts on all previous holidays, I cannot leave out Labor Day. Since most of my organized labour experience was in Canada, I give them their spelling.

Many blogs, news columns, pundits and other journalists have repeatedly extolled the virtues of labour, the benefits to all of us of organized labour, the sins of organized labour. We have organized labour to thank for Jimmy Hoffa, Bob White, paid holidays, higher wages, the whole spectrum of worker issues. Oddly enough, workers' compensation was given to us by companies getting tired of losing law suits to workers.

I'm going to talk about workers I have known.

Mom was a worker. For most of her career she took care of the hotshot salesmen in her company. She corrected their spelling. She re-wrote their letters; she maintained their schedules. She made herself indispensable to the whole office. Back in the day, women had that role in the office workplace. Mom took care of the household. We all pitched in, but it was her domain, also.


Dad was a worker. He was a letter carrier post war, and an inside worker post polio. When he was an inside worker, he worked a lot of overtime, and in many years got no overtime pay, but got paid time off in lieu. As an inside worker supervisor he had no union representation, but had many of the benefits the letter carriers had.

Ms CPB is a worker. She has been since high school. She worked two jobs, one full-time and one part-time while pregnant with our first child. She worked in the home for many years rearing and educating our children. When the last went to school, she resumed working outside the home . She is our main support.

I worked for 8 years in an auto-parts plant in Ontario, Canada. To talk about all the workers there, would take many pages. One group I remember well could transform any work station into a better, safer, more efficient station than any industrial engineer. These guys were old factory hands; some came from farms, where the only way to success was to economize all movement; some came from other closed plants.

Engineering and supervision would set up a work station for a new product. They would do a few test runs and decide on a quota for one 8-hour shift. These guys (old factory hands, and I include women in the group) would start out with the first set-up, and by the end of a few shifts, would re-arrange the station so that the quota was met in 6.5 hours. I loved to work with those folk.

I was a union representative in those days. I loved representing those people. Some of them retired while I was there; for some of them, it was the only job they ever had. I would see them downtown, and they always had a smile on their faces.

Throughout the years, the plant had three different owners. Three times we formed plant closure committees. It finally died. I don't know what happened to all those workers. Some I have kept in touch with, some have died, some moved on. On Labour Day, I especially think of them.

When I was a kid, Labour Day was just like Memorial Day, or The Fourth. The only difference was that we had to go back to school after that day. Sometimes we went to the mountains to fish and relax with the rest of the population of Southern California. Other times we went to a neighbor's pool and partied.

More than other holidays, I understood Labour Day best. My parents were workers. My friends' parents were workers, and they all had the day off paid.

I have seen Labour Day parades, presidential speeches, concerts, all extolling the virtues of labour. That lasted one day. The rest of the year, other interests take over and labour is under seige. But this is the American way. Labour is just another commodity like wheat or Texas crude. It takes some very cold decisions to treat people as resourses and not people.

But this is supposed to be about workers. Most of us are workers, i.e. people who earn a wage from an employer. PDB works about as hard as I did while on the farm, but he doesn't qualify as a worker as I define one, along with all the other small business owners who probably put in many more hours than their employees. They don't belong to the club; I exclude them; but Labour Day is also theirs to celebrate. I know he worked on Labour Day, as many other owners did.

Want to know more about workers? Get the book Working by Studs Terkel. It will be in any library. He interviewed hundreds of people from all walks of life. It is remarkable and totally American.

Notice I didn't get into the nobility of the worker, the oppression of the worker or even the death and maiming of workers. All have their own days, not remembered in America.

On Labor Day Labour Day, this is what I thought of.

BRB is Write (and at the moment, not a worker)










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