Labor Day used to be the de facto Summer’s End in America. Now the schools start in August, the first football games were a month ago, and new TV shows start whenever a network feels like it. Now I live in Texas, where if we’re lucky the 100 degree days are done but the 90 degree days will stick around for several more weeks. I miss the clear boundary marker of my youth, but it makes it easier to focus on the labor aspects of Labor Day.
I’m thankful for the people who do the hard, dirty, dangerous work necessary to keep modern society moving. I’m thankful I have a job, and that while sometimes it’s hard, it’s neither dirty nor dangerous. I’m thankful for the labor organizers whose hard work corrected many of the abuses of the early industrial world.
At the same time, I know not all those abuses have been ended, and working conditions in some parts of the world are as bad as they were here a hundred years ago. I know there are millions in this country who want work but can’t find it. I know there are millions more whose work doesn’t pay enough to stay out of poverty. I know there are many millions who are one disease away from financial ruin. And I know the few attempts to correct these imbalances have largely been ineffective.
I have enough economic education to understand the balance between wages, prices, and employment is complex and precarious. I have enough life experience to understand the correlation between work and reward is weak.
And I have a moral compass that says our current system isn’t good enough by far.
Thinking seriously about Labor Day is frustrating.
I’m done trying to change the system with the usual methods. There’s too much inertia around it, too many people too heavily invested in it to expect major changes from organizing or marching or voting.
Changing the system will require subversive methods. It will require changing the way people think, and act, and live. It will require drinking from a deeper well. It will require finding a better way ourselves, and then showing – not telling – that way to others.
So give thanks to those this day honors. Drink a beer, fire up the grill, watch some fireworks. For this day, forget about the work you have to do.
And think about the work you’re called to do.