Labor Day weekend marks the last sigh of summer — and just when you were starting to relax, here’s Labor Day to signal the start of the busy season. It’s time to get hyperactive again! The speed-up has a lot to do with the autumn chill that causes our metabolism to kick into a higher gear, and then we begin acting out the legacy of our Paleolithic ancestors who had to do major hunting and gathering in order to survive the winter. So right after Labor Day we begin our annual shopping binge, the modern day version of hunting and gathering. Labor Day also marks the start of the school year and of course the appropriate sport of football to accompany the crunch of autumn leaves and the full-tilt intensity of our lives in this millennial bardo.
So Labor Day weekend is the time to lay down that plow, hang up your cell phone, and then pick up your Union flag and wave it high from the rooftop of your corporate headquarters and sing, “Solidarity forever….”
But “labor” is really the wrong word for what most of us do to earn a living. Labor is done with muscle and blood, skin and bone. It gets your hands dirty, your elbow greasy and your blue collar sweaty. You tote that barge, lift that bale, load 16 tons and what do you get? (A reduced pension and no health-care coverage.) Labor is done with plow and tiller, hammer and sickle. It grows our food, builds great highways and bridges, and constructs cities full of tall skyscrapers — and that’s where the rest of us go to work, which happens down at the office, with computer and copier, text and phone, moving numbers and symbols from one cubicle to another on the information superhighway. It turns out that most of do work that only makes use of the muscles of our fingers, sometimes engaging our forebrains as well. But most of us who work do not labor. In fact, we hardly ever leave our chairs.
But listen up all you laborers and “workers of the world!” (Quaint old phrase.) Aren’t you insulted to find out that your big boss — the one who runs the company that owns your company — now makes 500 times more than the people who do the actual work; people like you? And even when that big boss fails miserably at his job and drives your company into bankruptcy, he still walks away with a multi-million dollar bonus. And this is after the company cut your pensions and health benefits, or maybe even cut your job, sending it off to China in the satchels of the World Trade Organization. And to add insult to insult, many of the corporations you work for don’t pay one single cent in taxes to support your public schools, or public health and safety, or public anything. They claim that their corporate headquarters are in Barbados or somewhere off-shore, so they don’t owe anything to America. Workers, you should be more than insulted, you should be real pissed off.
And workers of the world, when are we all going to wise up and rise up, and demand that the corporations pay us for wearing their names and logos around on our t-shirts and hats? No more free advertising!
Yes, workers of the world, I know that someone once said “the business of this country is business,” but can’t we make it something else for a while? How about “the business of this country is peace” or “the business of this country is fun and games,” or “the business of this country is the health and the healing of the planet.” I’m not talking here about “capitalism” or “communism”. As Abbie Hoffman said, “All ism’s should be wasm’s.” What I’m talking about is sanity and survival.
So, workers of the world — and especially you young people who are looking for your passion and purpose and means of expression — as you celebrate Labor Day weekend I urge you to consider the great work, the larger purpose of your life which may not have anything at all to do with your job. Maybe your real work in this lifetime is to understand yourself better and learn how to see the full on moment-to-moment beauty and sacredness of life. Maybe your real work in the world is helping to preserve endangered species, or cleaning up the ocean. Maybe your real work right now is to learn how to simplify your life so that you won’t have to spend so much of it working. And no matter what your job, your politics or religion, you just might discover that your real work in this life is nothing less than the labor of love.
And this is Scoop Nisker saying, “Keep “stickin’ to the union” — if you can find one. And of course, if you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own.