(September 1st 2014)
It’s Labor Day and, in the natural course of things (maybe more especially in the USA–I wouldn’t know), the original meaning of the day and what it celebrates has long been forgotten except as a way to get a great deal on mattresses and cars. Maybe it is in America, a country based as much on possession and riches as freedom to speak and worship, etc. that the general “culture” seems to denature and dismiss its most important historical evolutions.
I was a child and teenager in the Forties and Fifties of the last century (how odd it is to say that when you spent major part of your life living in that century). And I was filled with tales from my parents, and more especially my grandparents–about the tremendous poverty of the early twentieth century and the great and bloody wars fought by working men and women to finally have a life worth living.
I had older relatives who were beat up on picket lines in New York City when they attempted to form the ILGWU (International Ladies Garment Worker’s Union). My grandfather was a “union organizer” for the ILGWU–which basically meant that he formed part of the body guard for women picketing outside garment factories when the bosses sent Mafia thugs to beat them up.
I also grew up in a time when unions were strong and important to maintaining a decent life for people.
All that seems to have vanished, both the memory of wars fought to have a five day week and an eight hour day and a living wage and safe working conditions. Even the power and prestige of unions as true representatives of workers has almost vanished.
Organizing is still going on and there may be successes in the future. Walmart and McDonalds (and other fast food chains workers) are in the early stages of trying to form unions so they can make enough not to need food stamps and other government welfare. But not in my lifetime have I seen such animosity toward workers or unions–such contempt for Labor. Unions (which have their own history of corruption) are considered anti-American, when, in fact, they were always the most American of movements.
In any case, maybe it’s just the natural course of history (and modern short attention spans), that the meaning and importance of such holidays is lost. Do they celebrate the storming of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg and good day for car sales in Russia? I don’t know–maybe they do.
Anyway, I have a proposal. Since most major holidays have become just days off from work and sales spectaculars, how about creating a new holiday.
The 13th anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center towers is only about a week away. This tragedy is fresh enough in everyone’s memories so that we’ve not yet seen photos of the ruins coupled with advertisements for hot deals on SUV’s.
Since this country immediately responded with massive world-wide revenge and violence (which continues to this day), I suggest we designate 9/11 as a National Day of Reflection. We might quietly mourn the people who died AND we might examine our national conscience to see if the USA’s behavior in the world could provoke anyone into hating us so much that they would do such a thing. I don’t mean the lunatic fundamentalists who actually committed the crime, but the larger group of people in all parts of the world that our country has robbed of their natural resources, corrupted their governments, trained their secret police and helped to overthrow their democratically elected governments.
A day of silence; a day–for once–not to celebrate outwardly with chest thumping, fireworks, barbecues and bargains, but to reflect inwardly why our poor, aching country has become so tyrannical and feared in the world–so committed to using force to project itself all over the planet–and so devoted to greed and fascism at home.
How this holiday would be organized and “celebrated” I don’t know. But surely it is a day fresh enough in all our minds and hearts to use for such a necessary national self-examination.