Sunday, September 02, 2007

Labor Day

Labor Day is a federal designated holiday that began when congress passed an act in 1892 at the urging of the Central Labor Union. It was a day set aside to honor the "working man" and it falls on the first Monday in September.
To most folks today it is simply the last holiday of summer but I came from a family of coal miners all of which were union men and the holiday held more significance for them and for me.
I too was in a labor union in the late 70's and early 80's. In fact the last time the Communication Workers of America went on strike against Ma Bell in 1983, I was in the thick of things. As laborers, we were expected to walk the picket lines which were set up at company locations.
My duty was from midnight until 7 a.m. I showed up early with my cooler full of snacks, soft drinks, coffee, and sandwiches. I also took my guitar which proved to be a hit with the other strikers. I started playing protest songs written by Woody Guthry and other traditional songs. When a car or van would drive on to company property we'd all stand up and say nasty things about the "replacement workers" and their families - both past and present. It was a fun experience. I can tell you that had the strike lasted much longer the exchange between those who chose to cross the picket line would not have been so lighthearted.
I've read stories about strikes involving coal miners in the 1800's in which many people on both sides of the issue lost their lives. It was serious business back then.
Now days most young people talk about unions as if they were something to be despised. Most of them are surprised when I take up for unions. I know they have gotten a bad rap for standing behind worthless workers, but the unions did a great deal more than most people realize. Many of the benefits that people enjoy today came about at great costs to union members who sacrificed to get company concessions. Health care, vacation, and decent pay are just a few of the things they fought for and won. Working conditions were unimaginable before labor unions forced both companies and the federal government to make improvements.
I know there are those who feel that unions have outlived their purpose but I for one don't want to take away from what they did for the workers of America.
So tomorrow, I plan to throw some BBQ ribs on the grill, drink a cold one and say thanks to the "working man".

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