It’s time to rename Labor Day, because except for a possible reference to women giving birth, this patriotic salute to the American laborer doesn’t mean anything, and hasn’t since Ronald Reagan declared war on unions and encouraged his worshippers to continue the battle.
In the summer of 1981 then-President Reagan fired 13,000 air-traffic controllers and replaced them with temps who were paid the same and received the same benefits. The signal to other employers was clear—there was no need to bargain with unions any more. Fire them if they don’t like the conditions. And if you can’t find qualified workers willing to work for less wages, then foreign countries will pick up the slack. And they did.
Reagan appointed three management representatives to the National Labor Relations Board, one of whom—Donald Dotson famously said “unionized labor relations have been the major contributors to the decline and failure of once-healthy industries” and have caused “destruction of individual freedom.” The NLRB stopped promoting or even tolerating collective bargaining—and the once-healthy industries grew worse, then died.
Reagan also attempted to lower the minimum wage for younger workers, ease the child labor laws, tax fringe benefits, cut back job training programs, and relax the rules on workplace safety. If the Grinch stole Christmas, Reagan stole Labor Day.
As for renaming it, I’d suggest Reagan Day, but his aficionados and idolaters would miss the sarcasm.
Speaking of patriotic salutes that have lost their meaning, that wacky Colin Kaepernick story just won’t go away. Today I learned that I could, if I wished to, sign this petition from the American Family Association (mmmh, wholesome) that reads as follows:
I find Colin Kaepernick’s disrespectful actions against our nation and our police officers revolting. His conscious decision to sit during the national anthem and the wearing of anti-police socks should have no place in the NFL.
Strong words, but I’m not signing. First off, I won’t sign anything that mentions anti-police socks—it’s just a policy of mine. It’s not the police, it’s anti-anything socks I steer clear of. (Kaepernick apologized for the socks.)
Moreover, I’m tired of hearing the national anthem held up as the hallmark of patriotism. It’s a nice song, but it’s still a song. People can rise for its playing and applaud afterward—there’s nothing wrong with either. And if it gives you a feeling of pride and belonging, that’s good too. But patriotism has to embody more than that: it’s being there when your country calls; it’s voting in every election no matter how minor; it’s paying one’s taxes and not shirking or cheating; it’s obeying speed limits in the federal highway system; it’s supporting public schools so that all children can receive an adequate education; it’s volunteering and participating in local government; and it’s protecting the rights of those with whom you disagree because our Constitution says so.
It’s complicated being a patriotic American—or a patriotic anything—and those who would measure it by our reaction to a song might consider that.
And happy Labor Day, for now.