Labor Day is here and with it the traditional end of summer. It’s been a beautiful summer of warm nights and dear friends. I’ve indulged in the joys of life in Santa Monica.
For most of us, Labor Day is an excuse for an end of summer BBQ, time to get in that last joyous relaxing day of warmth and sunshine.
For others it is perhaps the last long weekend of childhood enjoyment; for those lucky souls who are still teenagers to enjoy the beach, eat pizza without concerns for calories or cholesterol and stay up too late dreaming of the future, with no awareness of what the day to day grind of “adult working life” is like.
Labor Day began as a holiday to honor the working class in this country. Labor has traditionally been undervalued and almost voiceless. That changed in the late 1800s with the labor movement, when a recognition of the power of unions and standing together brought laborers together in a way they had never before imagined.
Today Labor Day is rarely promoted as a day of respect for those who do the hard work of our society. Only politicians running for office generally trumpet the factory workers, the line cooks, the drivers, machinists and steelworkers that keep our society and our economy, moving. The media presents those positions as jobs that someone has to do, and tells us we should be grateful that we are not the men and women who have to do that work.
The occasional voice like Mike Rowe point out the “Dirty Jobs” and the work that “Someone’s gotta do it,” and he’s made quite a career out of championing hard work and getting dirty. As a voice for the general population he has become the standard bearer for a work ethic that exists, but is not often heard or seen.
Though the original meaning of Labor Day has lost some its shine in those parts of the country that are more rust belt than engine of society, we should still take a moment and remember what the intent was: commemorating the economic and social achievements of workers. Beginning principally in Australia as an outgrowth of a strike, it came to stand for the concept of an eight-hour work day, and eight hours of recreation.
The idea of eight hours of recreation is foreign to almost all of us today, which is ironic, because the advent of technology was supposed to free us. In some way it has, as I have written about before, productivity for many people has become mobile. This is where the law of unintended consequences comes into play, and we see how the dream and the reality meet, but in a way that no one foresaw.
For knowledge workers, technology has actually become the great enslaver, and for manual workers, technology has dramatically reduced the need for their efforts. When the factories of yesteryear were redesigned, to accommodate the robots, workers were displaced, and we have not found a way in which to utilize them. This has resulted in a surplus of labor.
There are many people who look at office workers and think that because they are not swinging a hammer, or riveting sheet metal, that they are not doing “real” work. But the truth of the matter is, in terms of stress, and costs to one’s life, the office worker, who is now expected to be “on call” all the time, is likely suffering from greater stress than the steelworker, who worked an eight hour day, and though they were physically exhausted at the end of the day, could go home, and put their job behind them. Plus, new studies are showing how incredibly unhealthy it is to just sit all day. Our bodies are designed to move and being sedentary leads to all kinds of problems like obesity, which leads to back problems, heart disease, diabetes and loss of muscle tone, which makes us more prone to injury and falling.
The manual worker has a freedom that the knowledge worker does not enjoy. It is impossible to take home your work when you are a metal fabricator for Boeing. But I feel safe in saying that many a legal secretary has lost a good night’s sleep worrying about some form that was due to be filed with the court.
Labor used to mean hourly shift workers, and it still does, but as we have progressed in society to become more dependent upon our knowledge skills, we have also changed the face of labor. As work has become portable, people are more capable of working all the time, and the traditional concept of a laborer, needs to adapt.
We are all more likely to be considered laborers, these days, and we should all take advantage of the original intent. To take a break, and recognize our accomplishments, whether they are wrought by hammer or keyboard, we all need to relax more.
David Pisarra is a Los Angeles Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer specializing in Father’s and Men’s Rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at email@example.com or 310/664-9969.You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra.