A Blue Labor Day

It’s Labor Day. Labor Day is the day we celebrate workers. Usually every able-bodied person who is old enough to meet a country’s legal work requirements is expected to work. Most people want to work. Even a menial job gives the laborer self-respect and a positive place in a culture, and an income to use in support of her/his life. Some workers believe that certain jobs are better at providing these things than other jobs are and, of course, especially in the area of income, this is true. But when a time such as the one we are living through right now comes along, where it seems as if there are not enough jobs to go around, any job becomes more valuable, even if the job does not provide an income equal to life’s expenses.
So Labor Day, 2012 is sort of a “blue” labor day (closely following the “blue” moon) because so many Americans are unemployed. Many have been unemployed for an extended period of time. People who search and search and cannot find a job experience the usual benefits of a job but in reverse, as negatives; they lose self-respect, they feel they have lost their positive place in their culture, and they experience financial difficulties. As they lose confidence they often find it more and more discouraging to leave their home base to look for employment. They experience depression in varying degrees depending on the person, the length of time unemployed, the effects on their families and friendships.
In such a time, when the job market is so tough and people are so disillusioned, I am not sure that it helps to call people who need financial assistance deadbeats; lazy, dependent citizens who are falling back on the resources of government, and who lack the motivation to break free of government support. I’m sure that there are people like this, but lots of people have lost jobs through a shift in our economy and cannot find new jobs due to these same shifts. Perhaps it helps some of the unemployed when they are shamed and they are then prodded into action to change their state from dependent to independent. Perhaps there is some validity to the argument that extending unemployment just allows people to stay unemployed longer, robs them of the initiative they need to rejoin the labor force in some capacity. Or you could look at those who use this type of rhetoric as people who just sound mean; people who are kicking someone when they are already down. Aren’t true malingerers a totally separate problem?
Labor unions are often celebrated on Labor Day. For many years unions protected American workers, first, from the very real abuses of business owners or managers; and then just to remind owners that they were there as watchdogs over workers. Labor unions are being attacked in this 2008-2012 recession as the cause of the flight of businesses from America. They are criticized for shielding workers who do not perform as they should (which they have sometimes done). They are criticized as greedy; always negotiating raises and better benefits until they just destroyed the American labor market. Even though there is no way American workers can actually compete with Asian workers, the unions still were and are targets of vitriol and legal backlash. This logic and our economic troubles are being as an excuse to do something that certain people have desired to do all along, a little union busting.
This all sounds an awful lot like “blame the victims” to me. This makes it difficult to be proud on this Labor Day in 2012, although we still are proud of our country and we still love being Americans, we can still wish that by next Labor Day there will be more jobs in America than there are this Labor Day. Take your choice; will stimulus and some tax increases help create jobs, or will cutting taxes for the wealthy give us jobs? Vote your choice. I don’t think there is a magic bullet. We may not be back in the red, white and blue by next Labor Day, but we may be able to see that things are headed up and our pride will rise accordingly.  

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