Monday, September 2, 2019

Labor Day: A Debunking

     Few things get me as angry as a priest preaching politics. It never fails to light my boilers – and my parish is afflicted by not one but two such priests. Yesterday one decided to heap praise on unions. “In honor of Labor Day,” he said.

     If there’s anything that deserves less praise and lots more condemnation than the labor union, it’s not coming to mind at the moment. A labor union is a device for denying the right to work to some persons, and for denying the right to hire and fire to some employers. It’s antithetical to everything this country is supposed to preserve and protect. Yet it continues to be celebrated by ignorant persons (and members of labor unions) as if it were responsible for American industry in toto.

     It ain’t that way, folks. But I’m here to prattle about Labor Day specifically, so I’ll get back to that.

     There are three fallacies about Labor Day that most Americans accept without question. All three have had a significant impact on American life. All three are plainly false. Therefore, it’s time for them to be refuted, hopefully for all time.

     The first fallacy, which has arguably had the widest impact, is that Labor Day is a contrivance of Franklin D. Roosevelt established to promote the sale and employment of outdoor barbecuing equipment. Not so! It predates FDR’s administration by several decades:

     Beginning in the late 19th century, as the trade union and labor movements grew, different groups of trade unionists chose a variety of days on which to celebrate labor. In the United States and Canada, a September holiday, called Labor or Labour Day, was first proposed in the 1880s. In 1882, Matthew Maguire, a machinist, first proposed a Labor Day holiday while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union (CLU) of New York. Some maintain that Peter J. McGuire of the American Federation of Labor put forward the first proposal in May 1882, after witnessing the annual labour festival held in Toronto, Canada. In 1887 Oregon became the first state of the United States to make Labor Day an official public holiday. By the time it became an official federal holiday in 1894, thirty U.S. states officially celebrated Labor Day. Thus by 1887 in North America, Labor Day was an established, official holiday.

     Following the deaths of workers at the hands of United States Army and United States Marshals Service during the Pullman Strike of 1894, the United States Congress unanimously voted to approve legislation to make Labor Day a national holiday and President Grover Cleveland signed it into law six days after the end of the strike. Cleveland supported the creation of the national holiday in an attempt to shore up support among trade unions following the Pullman Strike.

     There isn’t much about the presidency of Grover Cleveland that I disapprove, but kowtowing to the unions after having used the Army, quite legitimately, to break up an illegal strike is one such item. (We can, however, blame FDR for the Norris-Laguardia and Wagner Acts, and should do so at every opportunity.)

     Second, we have the widespread belief that Labor Day marks “the end of summer.” This is astrophysically incorrect. Summer is the period between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox. These are defined as follows:

     The summer solstice occurs when the tilt of a planet's semi-axis, in either northern or southern hemispheres, is most inclined toward the star that it orbits. Earth's maximum axial tilt toward the Sun is 23° 26'. This happens twice each year (once in each hemisphere), at which times the Sun reaches its highest position in the sky as seen from the north or the south pole.

     In the northern hemisphere the summer solstice occurs within two days of June 21. As for the end of summer:

     An equinox is an astronomical event in which the plane of Earth's equator passes the center of the Sun, making night and day of approximately equal length all over the planet. The equinoxes are the only times when the solar terminator (the "edge" between night and day) is perpendicular to the equator. As a result, the northern and southern hemispheres are equally illuminated.

     In other words, the equinoxes are the only times when the subsolar point is on the equator, meaning that the Sun is exactly overhead at a point on the equatorial line. Equinoxes occur twice a year, around 21 March and 23 September. The subsolar point crosses the equator moving northward at the March equinox and southward at the September equinox.

     So as you can see, Labor Day, set by legislation to be the first Monday in September, has nothing to do with the “end of summer.” Feel free to keep the pool open.

     Third and last for this tirade, despite the prevalent opposed conviction, it is perfectly all right to wear white after Labor Day. There has been no legislation on this subject. As for sartorial conventions, the highest imaginable authority has already ruled:

     Back in Emily’s day—the nineteen 00s, 10s and 20s—the summer season was bracketed by Memorial Day and Labor Day. Society flocked en masse from town house to seaside “cottage” or mountain “cabin” to escape the heat. City clothes were left behind in exchange for lighter, whiter, summer outfits. Come fall and the return to the city, summer clothes were put away and more formal city clothes donned once more. It was an age when there was a dress code for practically every occasion, and the signal to mark the change between summer resort clothes and clothing worn for the rest of the year was encapsulated in the dictum “No white after Labor Day.” And it stuck.

     Of course you can wear white after Labor Day, and it makes perfect sense to do so in climates where September’s temperatures are hardly fall-like. It’s more about fabric choice today than color. Even in the dead of winter in northern New England the fashionable wear white wools, cashmeres, jeans, and down-filled parkas. The true interpretation is “wear what’s appropriate—for the weather, the season, or the occasion.”

     However, those who are prone to spilling ketchup or mustard on their garments might be advised to avoid wearing white on Labor Day itself, for purely practical reasons.

     So much for these pernicious misconceptions about Labor Day. Remember that it’s not FDR but Grover Cleveland we have to blame for the event. Feel free to continue to enjoy your summer from tomorrow onward to this year’s autumnal equinox. Wear whatever colors you damned well please. And enjoy your barbecue equipment for as long as the weather permits.

1 comment:


More moons ago than I care to think about, I was working in Florida in an hourly job. The place itself was unionized but Florida was a Right To Work state so I didn't have to join. Threatened with being reduced, I joined the union... which did precisely nothing to protect me. (In fact, I suspect they reveled in my being going because I showed the work standards - time-per-part - were utterly bogus.)

A few years later I was applying to a UPS job and was told I'd have to join the Teamsters. NOT a RTW state, Maine, the initiation and dues were horrible. I walked out.

Some years passed and I was working as a salaried guy in a UAW auto plant. The cr*p those union people pulled was horrific. E.g., a security guard watched as two men sabotaged a machine to force having to work weekend OT. A friend, also salaried, was threatened with being beaten up in front of multiple witnesses. An hourly guy on one assembly line just decided to not do his job for a full shift, letting the assemblies go by uncalibrated. In none of these instances were there any disciplinary actions taken.

An hourly person with a company credit card, who was our rep at one of the assembly plants, was found to have embezzled A LOT of money (how he did it, and how they found out, were mysteries). He was fired and the UAW worked to get his job back! At another plant a UAW guy brought a gun into the factory and brandished it. Fired... and he DID get his job back after the UAW pushed.

At that plant I was part of developing (my first patent!) and launching a new process. But the job classifications overlapped. Having to have two persons rather than one would have killed it; the UAW fought tooth-and-nail before finally conceding and even then they made it difficult. The plant is, now, on its way to being shuttered because of the high labor costs the UAW imposed.

Unions were, I believe, necessary in the early days. So much of what they fought for is now codified into law, like OSHA and other standards/regulations. But the unions in general, and public unions specifically, are useful to the Left in pounding on doors, GOTV, and laundering money into Democrat campaign coffers... so the Left still fights for them.