What's the Meaning of Labor Day?

A worker's movement that defined a National holiday over 100 years ago seems to represent a lost era in our political, cultural and economic landscape.
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With Labor Day around the corner, unemployment hangs at 9.1 percent, marking the failure of the U.S. economy to add jobs for the first time in almost a year. It seems apropos to ask the question, is Labor Day an anachronism?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor website, Labor Day was a "creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers."

With all due respect to current labor unions, unions haven't played a key role in American culture over the past 20 years. In the context of social media, cable news, and celebrity culture, the "worker" just isn't who he/she used to be. We aren't physically building a young country but trying to understand the one we're in. For instance, Labor Day, to most Americans, has come to mean, and be defined by:

The end of summer
Last day to wear white
A Monday off
Back to school savings

Yet even these aspects of Labor Day have lost their meaning. With global warming, white is worn well past Labor Day and it's no longer the end of hot weather. School starts in mid-August so no retail bonanza in September. The only real meaning left is Monday off.

What's worse, people mix Memorial Day with Labor Day when referring to their plans for the summer bookend holidays. Let's face it, Labor Day has no real meaning anymore.

The U.S. Department of Labor website states:

The observance and celebration of Labor Day... outlined in the first proposal of the holiday ... (is) to take the form of -- a street parade to exhibit to the public 'the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations' of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families.

Today, "esprit de corps" for most employees is nil, or as in my lifetime, non-existent. Loyalty is just as anachronistic. For better or for worse, no longer will generations of sons and daughters work for the same company, or in the same industry, as their fathers and mothers. The relationship between employer and employee is more like that of a movie set, everyone acting their part with few who have access to work that produces a sense of pride and accomplishment.

A worker's movement that defined a National holiday over 100 years ago seems to represent a lost era in our political, cultural and economic landscape. Most workers are dismayed by what happened on Wall Street and how it affected their lives. We've witnessed a tremendous example of how strange banking practices bolstered the economy. Numerous jobs were built on funny mortgage contracts and crafty financial instruments. Banks on Wall Street created a risky niche industry and our government allowed it. Now income disparities are at an unprecedented gap and workers are out of work. Employees left standing are doing jobs of two or three people, stretched thin and paid nothing more. Teachers, firemen, and other workers haven't had proper raises in pay. The American worker has learned how not to entertain progress.

How did we get here? National holidays should hold some significance for the unity of its citizens. At best, people organize barbeques and get-togethers to eat, drink and forget about going to work the next day. Since the average American has little to spend, we've even lost the consumer edge so prevalent in our recent past. What does this say about our country?

With anti-depressants in our medicine cabinets and the delusion that education will enrich our lives and bank accounts, it's a wonder we haven't yet all cracked up. Over the 2011 Labor Day, all of us could take a moment to consider what we're celebrating. Are we celebrating our unified accomplishments? Or are we simply avoiding how bad it is? Our jobs are our lifeblood but without those jobs or any meaning behind them we have a lot to stress out about.

I, for one, am going to work over Labor Day. I'm going to clean my closets, get rid of the things I don't need and feel lighter for it. Perhaps I'll chunk jars from my refrigerator I haven't used, and won't use. I'll digitize my music and donate CDs, not to mention, get rid of the redundant products in my bathroom cabinet. The weekend might not hold any civic meaning but if I get some things done around the house, I might be able to enjoy a hamburger and a beer.

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