The Work to Be Done This Labor Day

Woman working in warehouse, smiling at cameraOn Labor Day 2018, it’s hard to maintain hope. Many will labor on Labor Day (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Growing up in a blue-collar union household, working on holidays was considered a boon). Many labor in worse conditions than our parents and grandparents.

The Gig Economy

The gig economy leaves millions on their own: So-called independent contractors assume all the risks of labor. Employers, most of whom are never met in person, reap the benefits. Workers drive, deliver (in my bike-loving city, workers pedal all over with other people’s groceries and take out), teach (in upper-middle-class academia, highly educated workers form the backbone of the teaching force), and perform the work others don’t want to.

I’ve lived through the heyday of neoliberalism. When Reagan took office I was still cutting teeth and union membership hovered around 30%. Growing up in a union home meant that even a family with a modest income could straighten their child’s teeth. And I had enough food to grow strong and tall.

Today the rate of unionization is roughly 11%, and a 2016 study revealed that 6.8 million teens are food insecure. The Supreme Court just issued a ruling in the Janus case that will make things worse, undermining public sector unions. And still, I am hopeful.

Hope is remembering ancestors, who demanded better working conditions – and carrying on their work. If you can, rest on Labor Day. But remember, our work is not done.”

Let me be clear: Hope is not the same thing as ignorance, incrementalism or turning away from others’ pain, saying, “It is what it is.”

I see what it is, and trust me, it is horrible.

Hope – and Action

Hope is forward thinking and history remembering. It is laboring with a deep love for others, including those who will come long after we’re gone, as we organize, strike, boycott, letter-write, phone bank, door-knock, feed and clothe, plant, tend and harvest, nurture, occupy, picket and teach.

Hope is thousands of teachers marching on state capitols, demanding a living wage and decent learning conditions for their students. Hope is the renewed Poor People’s Campaign, reclaiming morality from those who use religiosity for political gain. Hope is young people, who believe that Black Lives Matter, that every child deserves to attend school without fear of gun violence, and that getting a college degree should not result in a lifetime of debt.

Hope is remembering ancestors, who demanded better working conditions – and carrying on their work. If you can, rest on Labor Day. But remember, our work is not done.

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