Lifting Those Who Lift Us
For years people have lamented that in December we see many more images of Santa Claus, his elves, and Rudolph than we see images of Mary, Jesus, and the others that gathered at the manger. There are some that argue that the true meaning of Christmas has been lost.
In recent years we have seen similar critiques about Pride celebrations. In the beginning, these were marches where members of the community came together in the streets to protest and push for the adoption of policies and practices that would provide equity, freedom, safety, and dignity. Now, some Pride celebrations are seen as mostly parties and opportunities for corporations to virtue signal. Today, there are some who argue that the true meaning of Pride celebrations has been lost.
As we approach Labor Day Weekend, I can imagine there are some—including me—who might feel the same way about this holiday. That the meaning of it and opportunity to celebrate, educate, and elevate the labor movement and working people has been lost—or at least has significantly faded since its origins in the early 1880s.
In 2023 we continue to face growing wealth inequality. We see state legislators across the country attempting to roll back labor laws. There are also too many news stories about companies working to prevent union organizing. All these things make it even more important for us to remember why Labor Day was started and acknowledge it with intentionality.
We should celebrate the efforts of Americans who make tremendous contributions to this country and our daily lives. Our everyday heroes are union members. They are the teachers who educate our children. They are the workers who build the places where we live, work, worship, and recreate. They keep us safe on the roads, the rails, and in the sky. They take care of us and help keep us healthy in clinics and hospitals. They are public servants who keep the government and its programs and services running smoothly and efficiently. They ensure a good night’s sleep in hotels. They deliver letters and packages we could not function without. They bring smiles to our faces on stages and screens. They produce and distribute the food in our grocery stores that ends up on our tables nurturing our families.
All these people do skilled jobs and are not always recognized for their value. They should be celebrated. Too often the only union members who get applause are the ones who play major league sports.
Data from the Center for American Progress show that most Americans are in the working class and are the cornerstone of the American economy—but are concentrated in lower paying jobs. The people who keep this country going should be able to move into safe and affordable housing, have healthcare, reasonable working hours, and attain social mobility for their families.
We can all stand to use some of our time during Labor Day weekend reading books and articles, watching a documentary, or listening to a podcast to learn a bit more about the labor movement of the past and the current state of affairs for American workers. Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present and Future of American Labor by Steven Greenhouse is one book to start. A search of titles at the library, skimming through interesting podcasts, and a scan of your favorite newspaper’s websites will keep you going.
Ironically, this summer we have watched Hollywood writers and actors, the people we look to most often to write and elevate stories about others, go on strike. They have themselves become the main characters in a story about workers seeking fair wages, benefits, and protection from having their labor exploited and capitalized upon by artificial intelligence. They are demanding modern contracts for what they call modern issues.
Under the bright lights of Hollywood, in the pressing heat in fields in the heartland, on cold concrete floors in factories in the Midwest, in quiet classrooms soon to be filled with the sound of children at the start of a new academic year up and down the east coast, workers are doing their best to thrive. We should make sure those stories are being told and that our family, friends, and neighbors are honored and appreciated for all that they do.
For those who are fortunate to have Labor Day off, it is not simply because we as individuals earned it. It is also because American workers before us paved the way. ▼
Clarence J. Fluker is a public affairs and social impact strategist. Since 2008, he’s also been a contributing writer for Swerv, a lifestyle periodical celebrating African American LGBTQ+ culture and community. Follow him on Twitter: @CJFluker or Instagram: @Mr_CJFluker.