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Archive for September 5th, 2011

Another Labor Day

Just another Labor Day, the annual holiday here that marks the end of the summer.  Most of us don’t even think for a moment about what the name of this holiday anymore, don’t realize that this holiday was meant to honor the trade and labor unions that have been so demonized in recent years. I know that I’m aware of the history of this holiday and even I forget it most of the time.  And that is a shame because we all could use a reminder of how the working class of this country has truly built the great wealth of the nation.

I guess I’m a labor guy.  My first real job was in a grocery store, a Loblaw’s, and we were unionized.  My next two jobs were also unionized and for a couple of years I was  a Teamsters’ union steward for my department  when I was working in the A&P Food Processing Plant.  I learned a lot from that experience, things that shaped how I still view the world today, thirty years later. 

There were some good guys who were supervisors at the plant. Bosses.  Management.  I could  see how people would say there’s no need for all the labor regulations and the protections of unions when I worked for these select few.  They were fair and pragmatic in their approach to dealing with the workers and most of us worked harder than hell for these guys. 

 But many were not fair-minded and used their position of authority as a hammer to try to pound everyone under them as though they were nails.  They continually tried to circumvent every rule and regulation and were constantly at odds with their workers.  These guys were the face for me of why there was a need for labor unions in many places.  I can still see many of their faces so vividly in my memories of that time.  They were the first layer of management, the least trained and most ill-equipped, and they would do anything to meet the demands that the layer of management above that had placed on them, even if it meant abusing the rights of the workers under their supervision.

It’s not that they were bad guys.  They had goals set for them that had to be met and they were simply not very skilled at dealing with people, specifically their workers.  So they would try to bully and punish.  Probably in the same way that they had been dealt with most of their lives.  As a union steward, I could see that the behavior of these abusive bosses made the need for protecting the workers imperative even though there were other fair and just bosses out there.  There would always be some bad bosses, especially at the lowest and middle levels, and they were the ones who dealt primarily with the labor force.

We were built with our labor force and we have prospered most as a nation when the labor force shares equitably in the wealth being created.  On this labor day, we should remember that and be thankful for the sacrifices made by those workers and unions before us in creating protections against the bad bosses of this world.

 

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