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Roll up your sleeves, Labor Day’s over

Roll up your sleeves, Labor Day’s over Roll up your sleeves, Labor Day’s over

So, what are you doing these days after Labor Day? Probably your kids are back in school, you have put your summer whites away for the winter and your favorite football teams are again banging into each other on the gridiron. Labor Day has become the last hurrah of the summer and the gateway to autumn.
In Wikipedia, we find that the holiday started out as a tribute to the labor movement and a recognition of its ‘contributions to the social and economic strength, prosperity and well-being of the country.’ It was deemed a necessary recognition after the first national labor strike in the United States: The Pullman Strike of 1886.
The new Pullman sleeping cars were manufactured on the south side of Chicago with employees living in a town built by the company. When the workers’ wages were cut but their rents were not, a strike was called by Terre Haute’s own Eugene Debs, who headed the American Railroad Union. It affected most rail lines west of Detroit and, at its peak, involved some 250,000 workers in 27 states. The strike was broken by aggressive federal intervention which created a need for better relations between the opposing groups. Labor Day was established as a national holiday to raise awareness of the value of our workforce.
Today, we find that Labor Day weekend has become a huge shopping opportunity with back-to-school items leading the list of purchases. Only Black Friday that follows Thanksgiving beats it in retail sales. Our plans for the weekend also are full of picnics rather than a time of speeches and parades. It seems to have become a mark of the changing seasons rather than a thank you to the people who built our country.
When I see an elaborate building or a massive infrastructure project, I marvel at how many unknown laborers must have been involved. We learn of President Thomas Jefferson’s creation of his landmark home at Monticello and are in awe of this innovative and magnificent structure. The fine craftsmen who built it were mostly slaves and unrecognized laborers.
As we in Harrison County encounter all the construction associated with the bridge work over the Ohio River in Floyd and Clark counties, we are startled by the number of people involved. Skilled, trained specialists and tough laborers are all working toward a common goal.
Whose names are on our bridges, buildings and roads? It always seems to be the public officeholders and board of commissioners, certainly not the workers.
In contrast, when Jane Owen restored the old granary in New Harmony, she created plaques listing the names of those who actually worked on its construction. The families and friends of both management and labor entered into the celebration of its opening. It has remained a community gathering place where everyone is included.
South Central and Corydon Central high schools, fortunately, still have active programs in the industrial arts and woodworking. Many schools, however, find it difficult to support such classes. Without them, students may miss out on an opportunity to prepare for a future in a skilled trade.
I wonder if we aren’t missing something when we neglect our commitment to honor the contribution that ‘labor’ makes to our society. Perhaps we get shoddy workmanship for our dollar when we undervalue skills and people. Perhaps the personal behavior of some of our citizens is less than stellar partly because they have a low sense of self-worth.
With the gap between the wealthy and the poor increasing all over the world, I worry that the lesson learned by the existence of our middle class in America has been lost. It is about the importance of a reasonable distribution of resources, be it time, talent or money. Who shall have access to fully participate in the social and economic activity of a community? An overly unequal distribution of resources sooner or later seems to get a community out of balance. Our civilization’s history of revolutions, epidemics and despotism remind us of that.
In the United States, we have advocated the strength of the middle class and tried to maintain it by enacting a minimum wage. There is much debate as to whether the current dollar amount of that wage is enough to support a person. Some believe that it has, instead, developed a new classification consisting of ‘the working poor.’ Maybe we would do better to develop a ‘living wage’ that helps move families into ‘the middle class.’
I mention these distractions from the initial reason for the declaration of a ‘Labor Day’ to remind myself of the real value of such a holiday. We aren’t just commemorating a railroad strike of years gone by. There is a pressing need to stop and realize what it takes to keep a community strong in 2014. A well-educated and trained labor force is essential to Harrison County’s economic future. Lifelong learning is the name of the game in the 21st century. It takes more than a strong back to fill a job in this day and age, and we need to provide the preparation and compensation for labor advancements.
Yes, the swimming pool is closed, summer clothing is stored for the winter, kids are back in school and it is time to roll up our sleeves and go to work.