The people who twenty or thirty years ago would have worked in the factories now work in warehouses, due to the fact that there are no more factories. Warehouses like Staples and TruServ — excuse me, not warehouses — distribution centers — often require employees to work 10 or 12 hour shifts. Since it’s not a classic 9-5 job, it’s also not a classic five-day, forty-hour work week. Workers at distribution centers run forklifts and move boxes around for twelve hours a day, three or four days a week. I’d guess about half the employees at the Staples warehouse here in Washington County got today off; the other half weren’t so lucky. There are a lot of internet shoppers pushing the Easy button, you know, even on Labor Day.
Not everybody works in a warehouse. Some, like me for five years, are lucky enough to find work on maintenance crews at truck stops or all-night gas stations. I never got Labor Day off when I worked at Pilot. I never even expected it — Labor Day is always a Monday, and I always worked Mondays. I might have gotten paid time-and-a-half for it; I can’t remember if Labor Day was one of the four official paid holidays Pilot granted its employees or not. Not that 150% of $9 an hour for one shift was all that much anyway.
Other fortunate souls get to work at Wal-Mart and Target and Macy’s, and other fun places like that, so that bored housewives who have eagerly awaited this day ever since the July 4th sale over the summer can browse around and buy linens and jewelry for up to 60% off.
Not everyone works at a truck stop or a department store. Hell, not everyone is working class. If you only paid attention to commercial film and television, you might even forget there were working class people at all in this country. Good thing Labor Day doesn’t just apply to them. The doctors and lawyers get the day off, too. Most of them, anyway; doctors or lawyers with private practices can take off any day they feel like, but those poor saps stuck as hospital staff might find themselves pulling a shift on this first Monday in September, no matter what day the calendar says it is. If only those ill-mannered pricks in the waiting room could have put off being sick until tomorrow.
Government employees get the day off — the worthless ones, like the members of Congress (God knows they need an extra day’s vacation), and the ones who actually do some good for the world, like my girlfriend the librarian. I’m sure her bosses have no qualms about giving her the day — it’s eight hours’ worth of an electric bill they won’t have to pay.
It’s not only a useless holiday, it’s a hypocritical one. Does anyone take a moment on Labor Day to even lift their bottle of Coors Light to honor the working people of this nation, let alone the world, before they dig into their grilled hot dogs and shrimp? I never did. Neither did anyone else in my family. We are working-class people, though; maybe we figured it would be uncouth to toast ourselves. But if we don’t do it, who will? The people who Labor Day was supposedly created to honor — the people who work for hourly wages in difficult and unglamorous jobs, the janitors, the sales clerks, the warehouse workers, the 24-hour plumbers who need the money and are not going to turn down a job even the call does come in the middle of a barbecue — are the same people that on good days are merely ignored and taken for granted by the rich and powerful, and on bad days are callously and ruthlessly exploited. Even if it were sincere, it’d take a hell of a lot more than one day off a year to make up for that.