I’m guessing that some of the more traditionally fashion-conscious among us
will be flagging this as the last fling in summer whites this Labor Day weekend. As Time Magazine notes, “The post–Labor Day moratorium on white clothing and accessories has long ranked among etiquette hard-liners’ most sacred rules.” Despite this Great White Surrender, there’s reason for hope.
Others might simply welcome a short respite from the grind of daily labor this weekend. Sadly, still others might spend their time during the next couple of days wishing they had a clock to stamp their time card Tuesday morning when the new unofficial fall season returns in full swing.
Regardless of which camp Americans might fall into, this weekend is a significant one not only because of its namesake but also its origin. I say “Americans” because the rest of the world formally recognizes labor on May 1. The first Labor Day in America was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, thanks to the Central Labor Union. Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894. It was then that a number of workers died at the hands of the U.S. military and U.S. Marshals during the Pullman Strike, the most famous and violent labor conflict in a period of severe economic depression and related social unrest. The eventual outcome was a reconciliation between President Grover Cleveland and labor.
It’s been a tumultuous year for labor. The year 2011 has brought an escalated assault on labor in the making for the last decade. Perhaps the most salient example this year would be the actions of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to curb collective bargaining rights of public workers. The response that followed, however, was an overwhelming and sustained rally in Madison and around the country as state capital after capital attempted a pre-Pullman pull back. A recent summer season of recall elections that have already voted out some of those who supported Walkers’ anti-union position is proof positive of pushback against the pullback.
In Maine, Governor LePage, ordered the removal of a mural from the main lobby of the state’s Department of Labor because “Union thugs are history’ greatest monsters”. Elsewhere, Minnesota Congresswoman and Presidential contender Michele Bachmann has called for the elimination of the minimum wage. Examples abound.
As Noam Chomsky observes, “A decade ago, a useful word was coined in honor of May Day by radical Italian labor activists: ‘precarity.’ It referred at first to the increasingly precarious existence of working people ‘at the margins’ – women, youth, migrants. Then it expanded to apply to the growing ‘precariat’ of the core labor force, the ‘precarious proletariat’ suffering from the programs of deunionization, flexibilization and deregulation that are part of the assault on labor throughout the world.”
As we kick back this weekend, let’s be a bit more sanguine about the future of labor than our friend Professor Chomsky despite the labor pains of 2011. A visible and burgeoning rash of interstate recall elections and big rallies is reason alone to anticipate future labor gains. Our hard fought three day reprieve is tangible proof that organized labor can bring humanitarian results for those disposed to wearing white as well as blue.