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Berger’s Burg: Labor Day celebrates the hard work of all Americans

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Labor Day, the mildest holiday Americans celebrate, falls on Sept. 7. It honors labor and the working class of America. If you asked these working men and women if they enjoyed working, many if not all would say they would rather be frolicking on a beach in Aruba. But if pressed, they would admit they enjoy working. Read the italicized words of some opinionated dignitaries extolling the virtues of working, and a few contrary “labor” jokes, and then decide.

Historically, the holiday was born in the turmoil and class warfare of the late 19th century. The great industrialists of the time agreed with Andrew Carnegie’s cold division of human beings that “the one is master and depends on profits, the other is servant and depends on salary.”

Public opinion sought to recognize the worker was more than a machine with muscles. It was a slow and often bloody struggle to achieve this recognition.

The nation’s remarkable journey from class hostility to the greatest prosperity any working society has ever known is what we celebrate on Labor Day.

The dignity of labor was a major theme during the robber baron era and, following years of worker strife and hardship, it was finally achieved.

The motto of the mechanics guild — “Not a house is built, not a ship floats, not a wheel spins, not an engine thunders, not a press speaks, and not a banner flies, without having endured the blows of a hammer. In the hammer and hand lies the wealth of a nation.” — were words that helped make Labor Day inevitable.

The credo that even God, at the end of creation, rested from his work persuaded public opinion to finally get Congress to create Labor Day, a day of rest.

In 1894, Congress passed a law designating the first Monday in September as a public holiday. Immediately thereafter, every state did the same and today Labor Day is a legal holiday all over America.

Rather than clashes between police and workers as in the past, picnics and baseball games are now the order of the day on Labor Day. From the sweetness of these activities, one would never suspect this holiday was born of savage violence.

Workers and their employers now share, among other things, a joint drive for prosperity. And at long last, they actually like one another.

The early celebrations of Labor Day were marked by elaborate and colorful parades. Regrettably, these marches have been abandoned.

A Mr. Anonymous described the importance of labor. He wrote: “Labor is one of the greatest earthly blessings. It rewards with health, contentment of mind, cheerfulness of spirit and sound, refreshing sleep, few of which blessings of life are long enjoyed by those who do not daily, in one form or another, labor.” I agree, Mr. A.

So as we unfurl the flag, eat our hot dogs and cheer our teams, let’s salute American labor and contemplate whether you also think work is fun.

Contact Alex Berger at timesledgernews@cnglocal.com.

Posted 6:28 pm, October 10, 2011
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