Labor Day is coming up again. For years most Americans have just regarded it as the book-end holiday to end the summer, a last day to play or feast with family and friends before returning to the serious business of work or school. Of course union leaders who feel slighted at the absence of much attention on the day that was originally set aside to honor working people and their organizations wail with indignation at the effective national snub.
But who cares about them anyway, a lot of us think. Their day is done. They are as relevant in the new economy as buggy whips we are told. Their persistence on the edges of society is barely tolerated, and is increasingly under attack with the approval of a wide swath of the population.
Maybe we ought to just junk the holiday all together. People take too damned much time off work anyway.
But if that is too unpopular to fly with middle class folks who treasure their long weekend, maybe it should be made as optional as Columbus Day or Martin Luther King Day. Come to think of it, it already is for the increasing numbers of people employed in the retail, hospitality, and service industries who are expected to show up any day they are penciled in to a weekly work schedule. Those folks ought to be glad they have a job. Millions don’t and don’t have any real prospect of getting one.
Why don’t we acknowledge that and proclaim Un-Labor Day, a recognition of those now structurally unemployed, the ones who a few years ago had steady jobs and bright prospects—and mortgages, car payments, student loans, and credit card debt based on the assumption that their good fortune was permanent. For millions it wasn't. Unlike in previous panics, depressions, or recessions, there is no prospect that they will ever be recalled to their old jobs or find comparable ones.
Their former employers have permanently downsized, “making do with less” it is called—with remaining employees are doing the work or four or five thus demonstrating improved productivity. They have been replaced by the cyber revolution just as surely as two centuries ago home weavers were made redundant by power looms tended by child hands. Some whole industries, like print publishing, are vanishing before our eyes. Finally if nothing else cuts costs and boost the profit margin, as many jobs as possible are simply shipped off shore, both traditional production and service.
Who else? Well, how about the young folks getting out of school. A high school diploma, we are told is worthless. But now so may be a bachelor’s degree, especially if the benighted student had the poor judgment to pursue the Liberal Arts or some other degree that is not basically a technical mastery certificate in some narrow field that itself may be obsolete in ten years. Borrow money to make your dreams come true, they were told. They enter the job market with bleak prospects and enormous debt—and those securing new loans will find that their interest rates greatly increase thanks to a supposed Congressional compromise saved them being doubled. Student loan rates were already much higher than any other lending. So let’s include the boys and girls who will be in their parent’s basements indefinitely and who may—or may not—find a job waiting tables or in an airless call center.
How about those who have exited the job market under the quaint notion that they should be able to retire. Social Security is for leeches, we are told, who are stealing from their own grandchildren. Pensions are a ponzi scheme which have already been stripped from most private employees. Government workers, even less popular, are categorized as union thugs when they resist giving up theirs. We are supposed to be responsible for our own retirement savings. Except that for many there isn’t a dime left after day-to-day expenses to put into that tax advantaged IRA. Those who can are expected to work until they drop. Those who can’t, well, what of them.
And then there are those who were always left out: the disabled, the homeless, the prisoners—and boy do we have prisoners in this country like nobody's business, the highest incarceration rate in the world and apparently proud of it—the welfare queens and their unwanted broods. The rest of us are resentful of “carrying their load” and cheer when politicians shred the despised “safety” nets that once kept their noses just above the surface as they tread water. Now it’s sink or swim. Maybe better sink and be done with it.
Most of the rest of us exhaust ourselves trying to stay out of one of these traps.
And finally are there are those who never really work at at all but are the lauded wealth creators to whom the rest of us owe due obsequiousness. Yes them. They’re the ones!
So let’s loft a cold one and throw a burger on the grill for the true heroes of our new Un-labor Day!