"Freedom is Slavery"
– George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four
This weekend is Labour Day. If you're visiting from south of the border, that is not a typo. Different country; different currency; different spelling; same meaning, longest undefended border — unless you count all those armed, uniformed border security people.
Labour Day was created to celebrate, well, labour. Not the kind of labour that made all our lives possible. We celebrate that on Mother's Day, although it wouldn't be a bad idea to call mom up this weekend and thank her for her labour. If nothing else, it'll confuse her.
Labour Day raises a glass to work, to working men and women. Labour Day therefore constitutes the most ironic statutory holiday on the books, unless you want to get into the argument or controversy over the irony of celebrating Christmas nowhere near the time of year Jesus Christ was actually born... and I don't.
We celebrate the new year. We celebrate St. Valentine, the Easter bunny, Queen Victoria, Canada, Thanksgiving and the beginning of August. We celebrate those things because of their historical importance, coincidental timing, remaining religious overtones and because on one level or another, celebrating them makes us feel good.
We do not celebrate labour because we enjoy labouring. In the diminishing sense history still has any meaning, we don't celebrate labour at all. We celebrate Labour, not the party, the class. Therein lies the irony, at least partly. We give working persons the day off to celebrate their labour, which is to say all their days on.
Labour Day was created at a time in the misty past when workingmen and women were considered, if not important, at least valuable. They created the wealth that made the First World the place people from the Third World wanted to sneak into. Even the folks they made all that money for, the captains of industry, the financiers, the monopolists, the wealthy, understood their value. Of course that didn't stop them from calling in the goons to bust them up when they tried to organize for better wages and working conditions but at least they acquiesced to letting them have a holiday once a year.
The ultimate irony though is how thoroughly, how completely the very people who have profited most from the labours of others have managed to vilify them and convince almost everyone else — including the labourers themselves — to buy into that myth. As a society, we've come to speak of labour unions in the same repulsed tones we use when discussing loathsome diseases. We blame them for what Sam Gompers said was their raison d'être, wanting more. More of the wealth their labour creates, more of the increased productivity wrung out of them by management, more of the North American dream of a better life for themselves and their children.
But to give Labour more, management and corporate shareholders would have to take less, an option that's become simply unacceptable in the global greedfest unfettered capitalism has become. In order to justify keeping more for themselves and sharing less with Labour, it was necessary to create a fiction to justify their raw greed. The fiction was this: All the ills of the capitalist system — not perfect, but better than anything else — can be laid at the feet of Labour.
Why did General Motors go bankrupt? Because of Labour's overly-generous, unfunded pensions management was "forced" to give them when profits were big and times were good. It had nothing to do with the misguided management decisions at GM to continue to build crappy cars no one wanted to buy, to resist innovation because of the investment in outdated plants, to continue to pay themselves big salaries, bigger bonuses and rich pensions, none of which were cut in the name of austerity.
Why are so many North American towns facing bankruptcy? Same overly-generous pensions. They too are unfunded because the people elected and hired to run those towns preferred to spend the tax dollars they might have used to fund those pensions on other things, hoping the future would take care of itself.
Labour never bankrupted a company. Failure and bankruptcy are the exclusive domain of management's myopia and bad decision making. That they've been so successful in creating and spreading the big lie that it's Labour's fault undoubtedly has Joseph Goebbels smiling in Hell.
They spread the lie with the help of governments like our current one who believed in no value higher than economic gain at any cost and certainly no value lower than that of collective bargaining rights.
They spread the lie with the help of middle management who want so desperately to become top management they don't really understand they too are simply Labour dressed up in suits. Now they are seeing their own jobs — those high-power, high-paying service jobs our economy was going to be about once we sent manufacturing offshore to the Third World — outsourced, they sit by quietly with fingers crossed. Their own salaries are under downward pressure and their own labour has become so completely devalued that they are quickly becoming the new slave class, tethered 24/7 to their "smart" phones that have extinguished the line between work time and personal time. They no longer understand all they have to trade for their dreams of a corner suite is their own precious lives. Joke's on you, chumps.
The game is rigged and the house is always the winner. All the gains in worker productivity have gone to the guys at the top and their bagmen. They're the only ones who believe a just society, a civil society, a caring society is one where they make 400 or 600 times as much as the poor schmucks who labour for their one day a year holiday. They'll continue to reward themselves and spread the big lie that whatever goes wrong is Labour's fault. They'll continue to see their compensation go up as everyone else's goes down. They'll continue to outsource, downsize, raid pension funds, and run to governments to bail out their bad decisions until... until we stop letting them.
When that finally happens, I'll celebrate Labour Day.
Until then, it's just another day in the life of Tiny Town. It's a day many of us will be working to serve you breakfast, make your beds, clean your rooms, rent you a bike, sell you a lift ticket, flip your burger, bring you a couple of cold ones, cut your greens, fix your boo-boos, give you directions, entertain your limited attention span, sell you a tee-shirt and try our hardest to make this a pleasurable weekend for you before you trundle off to your own labour on Tuesday.
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