It's Labor Day weekend which is a signal that the slow pace of summer is fading.
I'm writing this on Labor Day itself (Monday), a holiday that has always had a fuzzy purpose. Is it a day to honor all working people in a general way? Or is it a day to pay tribute to the organized labor movement?
Organized labor has been fading in America. Its last real bastion has been the public sector, and as we've seen in Wisconsin, its perch there is under siege as well.
I have always been puzzled how organized labor claims to speak for all working people. Its aims are laudable but its reach is too thin.
Organized labor, they say, gave us the weekend and the 40-hour week. But who really works a 40-hour week anymore? Work schedules are all over the map.
Also coming under revision is the idea of going to work at "the office." The new communications technology has obviously chipped away at that. It has actually applied a machete.
Work can be done anywhere. So many functions don't have to be performed face to face. The ones that don't, can be performed from literally anywhere.
Working from home can be nice. But it can be a curse if you find you can never get away from your work. If your boss can always find you.
"Mr. Spacely, what's up?"
Someone made mention of the "40-hour week" on the Chris Matthews program (on MSNBC) recently. The host sort of scoffed. Matthews said something to the effect that "nobody works a 40-hour week anymore."
The discussion quickly moved on but this exchange stuck with me.
What have we as a society lost when the 40-hour model has faded away? To be replaced by a disjointed structure where many people are in dead-end part-time work or working themselves into an early grave?
The 40-hour week was really a monument created by the World War II generation in the postwar years. We took it for granted. We insisted on limits.
Weekends were a time for diversions with friends and family. "Work" would have been considered an intrusion.
Many people looked for ways to "knock off early" on Fridays. Matthews would probably react to that phrase as being dated too.
What was wrong? Were people lazy? I think not at all.
People had a sense of their proper priorities. They made sure they had a secure job with a steady paycheck. Beyond that they valued R & R and connecting with those close to them.
Their jobs were fairly predictable. Yes, they involved systems that might be described as "analog."
"Oh, how inefficient!"
Maybe, but the new technology is so disruptive it's concerning. I don't think this has really sunk in yet.
Who can't be fascinated with computers and "connectivity?"
But lives have been turned upside down by the rapid changes.
Forget the old predictable nature of the workplace. All systems have been geared toward "efficiency."
Because we have decided that Wall Street is our new main street, profits rule. It hasn't yet fully dawned on us how dehumanizing this can be.
We haven't learned yet that "efficiency" isn't everything. We will learn, probably the hard way. It might happen when the U.S. economy runs into another snafu like in 2008.
Only next time, the government (an institution we aren't supposed to believe in) might not be able to bail us out.
In 2008 there was "sort of" a bailout. I think it just bought some time.
It's amazing that a Republican president like George W. Bush, who I presume feels the private sector can handle everything, would propose such drastic intervention as in 2008. He said his "economic advisers" told him he had to do it. So, he didn't have to take responsibility.
If Wall Street had been allowed to crumble, a new type of system could have arisen. I think it almost happened. It might take another crisis to see the kind of revision that might be good for America.
The question is how "ugly" that transition will be.
The inhabitants of Wall Street have close ties to our government. A lot of them went to the same Ivy League institutions.
Meanwhile all of us out here in the great Midwest are at their mercy. Up until now we haven't made much of an issue of this.
Frustration and anger has been building but it has been misdirected.
Let's get specific: It's the tea party. The tea party is a fountain of ignorance. It knows bad things are happening in America but doesn't know the exact cause. So it gets regressive, pining for an America of an earlier time that we know isn't coming back.
It attacks the very populist-based policies that are in their own best interests.
President Barack Obama seems like the most pleasant person who wants the best for all Americans. And yet he's assailed by the tea party, who come across as a bunch of rubes managed as if they were marionette puppets by the usual GOP bigshots who are aligned with the Wall Street establishment.
Can the truth break through? On this Labor Day of 2011, we all must wonder.
I'm pleased to know there's a formal Labor Day event in Morris this year. Yes it has political overtones. The DFL party is putting on this event at our University of Minnesota-Morris. It's from 5 to 7 p.m. It will include "labor music and exciting speeches."
"We invite everyone who supports the goals of standing up for the working people of our country to show up and show their solidarity," a spokesman was quoted saying in the first University Register of the new school year.
Sounds like socialism to me.
Where is the Counterweight when we need it?
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org