Labor Day

Published 11:45 am Sunday, September 10, 2023

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Labor Day has come and gone and so has almost two-thirds of the year 2023. Time flies, doesn’t it?

            There was a time when Labor Day ushered in the school year. The federal holiday was the last day before it was “back to school,” but it’s been a while since we waited so long to begin our school years.

            I also remember when Labor Day brought us the “sho-nuff” hurricane season. This past week we had our first of the year, Idalia, and you could say that we dodged the worst part of that hurricane, but welcomed the much-needed rain. I’m praying for the folks, not so far away, who were hit with damaging winds.

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            Although the movement to celebrate the achievements of the nation’s workers, mostly of the union variety, was begun as far back as 1882, the official proclamation to establish the first Monday in September as a federally recognized holiday was signed into law by President Cleveland in 1894. You remember Grover, don’t you?

            There are parts of the country where unions are much more prevalent than here in South Georgia and, around the farm, we treated the holiday as just another labor day. We anticipated the new school year with a certain kind of excitement but, as far as celebrating Labor Day, we didn’t.

            I was fairly naïve about the role unions played in our country’s history. Some industries where the workforce was in the thousands or hundreds of thousands lent themselves to the necessity of organizing the workers, but on small farms with just families doing the work, the only organization that was needed was for the boss, usually a daddy, to give the children their marching orders! And don’t think about striking.

            My appreciation of labor unions came from the textbooks we had in school and the situations where rich owners of industries took advantage of their employees by paying wages that were low and of benefit to the owner. Plus, the working and safety conditions of the workplace were not of primary concern to the big bosses.

            The labor movement sought to correct these inequalities and highlight the importance of those people on the lower rungs of the ladder. Nothing wrong with that.

            However, the viewpoint of the more independent and small business worker, particularly, in a Right to Work state like Georgia, was prejudiced by strikes that were probably misunderstood. Once I had left the farm and moved into a broader setting, I encountered one incident regarding a union.

            My company had a promotional booth in the huge McCormack Convention Center in Chicago. Along with another company employee, we were setting up our booth and getting ready to meet prospective customers. The booth was 8 feet by 10 feet and we had a banner to be hung. All I needed was a couple of nails, one for each end of the banner.

            I borrowed the nails from another booth and proceeded to hang our banner. I grew up with hammers and nails and thought nothing of taking care of this insignificant chore. I even used the heel of my shoe for the hammer.

            The banner was hung and we were ready for business. That is, until a union representative came by to inform me that I was not allowed to hang a banner in the Center. That was a union job. It didn’t matter that I was a farm boy and knew, quite well, how to handle a hammer and nail.

            I guess the union man recognized my innocence and let the offense go, but he probably thought “You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.”