Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day 2011: What to Celebrate?

Things may not be quite as grim as in that satirical video that I posted a while back, but Labor Day today does a bit more somber even than in recent years: a dismal jobs report for the past month (1, 2), Congress and White House deadlocked over economic and fiscal policy, a petulant and indecisive President who seems unable to act and able only to infuriate supporters and foes in equal measure.

The New York Times editorial concluded,
This is not a history that crosses the minds of most Americans during a three-day weekend that feels like the border between summer and fall. (On Labor Day, we try our best to remain unaware that stores have already stocked up for Halloween.)

But change the emphasis from labor to jobs and you come upon a subject that is very much on the minds of Americans, and not merely among the 14 million officially unemployed people in this country, a number equivalent to the population of Illinois, Wyoming and Vermont.

Perhaps Labor Day should be a day to consider the struggles of so many Americans eager to work but unable to find jobs. Perhaps it should be a day for parades of the unemployed, to remind us of the dignity of work and the indignity of being out of it.
Among other things, this strong statement stands in the most striking contrast to the banal and platitudinous observations that this same publication offered up only a year ago at this time.

Maybe something has started to sink in. In "The Limping Middle Class," economist and former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich has some analysis and striking graphics, illustrating the difference between "The Great Prosperity: 1947-79" and "The Great Regression: 1980-Now" (hint: those dates aren't coincidental).

Well, maybe at least the unemployed will have time to read.

Some further Labor Day resources:

• Darlene Superville, "Obama Labor Day Speech: President Says Congress Must Pass Jobs Plan (video)" Huffington Post, 5 Sept.
• Sam Hananel, "Labor Unions Adjust to New Reality Under Obama," Huffington Post, 5 Sept.

The Nation has compiled a list of "Top 10 Labor Day Songs" (with audio and video)
• The Library of Congress, which last year focused on the history of the holiday, this year offers a guide to resources on labor and labor history.
• In "Sacrificing Their Lives to Work," The New York Review of Books calls attention to the deaths of 72  migrant workers murdered by drug dealers while trying to reach the US last year. (Further information at
• Blogger and fellow Tweep Barbara Sarudy (@History_Art) has a feature on "Women and Labor Day." History magazine (@HistoryMag) even picked up and tweeted her "Labor Day Photos of 19th-Century African American Women Working."
• The Jewish Museum tweeted, "Here's to all the social and economic achievements of American workers!" along with an untitled Ben Shahn photo of workers in a field, c. 1935.
• The Newseum asks, "What was the worst job you ever had?"

Previous posts from this site:

• from 2010: "What's Left? Squeezing the Workers Out of Labor Day"
• from 2010: "Labor Day Postscript"
• from 2009:  "Labor Day . . . and who was talking about the Labor Movement?"

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