Monday, September 1, 2008

For all the saints, who from their labors rest...

I've had lots of music in my head lately, and most of it from my time as a singer in an Episcopal church. My all-time favorite hymn might always be "Earth and All Stars," chiefly because I cannot sing the entire song with a straight face. That's worth something. (If you follow the above link, do yourself a favor and read verse five.)

More directly, the title of this post refers to this Labor Day holiday, and its own juxtaposition of labor and rest. When I was young, I really thought that Labor Day was either a celebration of any women who happened to have babies on September first. Later, perhaps the people who had to work despite the national holiday got some kind of special reward. Maybe a cake, a bouncy ball, or a small pony. Whatever. This is all coming from the girl who created a cost-benefit analysis presentation to convince her parents to get a dog, but who truly believed that lyme disease was contracted from those little green bugs that look like the end of a grass blade.

I didn't spend too much brainpower thinking about the meaning of Labor Day, and that has been true for much of my life. In all fairness, I didn't get to celebrate Labor Day once I started working, or during college. In fact, this is probably the first year that I've been both employed, and had a day off for the holiday; actually just a coincidence, since Josh happened to be scheduled off today. Sadly, due to the current state of affairs in my kidneys (did I write about going to the ER? I went to the emergency room, and I have the nervous eye twitch and four bottles of medicine to prove it!), I'm missing a Labor Day barbecue right now. So much for celebrating a day of rest.

This is totally round-about, but what I mean to write is that far too many workers in the United States are under-appreciated. I am not just whining and citing myself as example. Any person who toils for hours upon hours at a store like Wal-Mart or the local grocery will understand. Talk about thankless jobs! Far too many people are taken advantage of, and it's most apparent on the national holiday celebrating labor. If your job turns a profit for someone above, and if another could easily step in and complete your tasks, you don't get a paid day off. Sometimes you can't even get a non-paid day off.

Today we were able to shop at the commissary, complete transactions at our bank, and eat chicken sandwiches at the food court. I was in shock that these places were all open. When the Germans have a holiday, you had better believe that planning ahead is essential. You may not find anyone willing to sell you another package of sausages for your grill, and if you do you will probably drive far and pay dearly. And although that can be a pain (especially if you are a student or a shift worker's wife... both said with personal experience), I think it's wonderful. Why shouldn't the guy who stocks the shelves at Globus have a day off? Why shouldn't the woman at the bank counter be rewarded for her constant customer service with one day off? Why shouldn't waitresses be granted this day to relax? Why can't I be expected to not spend my money excessively for one day?

I'm sure that economic theorists have tons of replies to this question, but what I'm really getting at is what I believe are twisted, corrupted priorities in American culture. The dollar above the individual. Productivity, revenue, trumps all. Germans- really, most Europeans- could teach us some important lessons in regards to taking care of our labor force.

I don't know what we average citizens can do. Petitions, public interest campaigns... they all seem over-used and too easily ignored. But I'm going to be thinking about it. After all, I've written a cost-benefit analysis before. I'm not afraid to do it again.

No comments: