Real Labor

It's Labor Day, and I'm working. You could modify that sentence to "It's [insert major holiday here] and I'm working. Since I turned sixteen, the American Holiday Calendar has meant virtually nothing to me due to the high probability that I would be working, possibly harder and longer on those arbitrary dates, actually, while relatives gathered in backyards and family rooms eating casserole the consistency of infant puree and comparing grandchild heights. When pie and coffee is consumed on Thanksgiving, I'm getting ready for work. When my Polish family gathers on Christmas Eve to pop styrofoam wafers into each others mouths, I'm at work. While friends insufficiently grill raw meat and down copious cans of beer to kill the encroaching salmonella on July 4th, I'm at work. I'm not a first responder, or a medic, or a nurse, or a scientist, or a construction worker, or any of those occupations in which dear souls who are much, much more selfless than me have become entrenched. I work and have always worked in non-essential retail selling clothing, and not the essential kind. Nor do not sell soap, or food, or booze, or medicine or weed, or appliances, or things for kids, or phones. Yet, it's Labor Day. And I'm working.

There is an awful lot of chatter these days about 'supporting the American worker'. Regardless of your political leaning, most of our feckless leaders manage to fit 'improving the lives of America's workforce' into the majority of their public bloviation as a way to showcase their qualities as superior to the other guy. Despite the lack of enumeration when it comes to how, exactly, they plan to better support us, simply declaring the need for support tends to gin up a decent amount of flag waving, sweaty clapping, and militant chanting on both sides of the aisle. It's happening as I write this, and more notably as millions of us are on unemployment, or under-employed, or so overworked due to the nature of our jobs during this pandemic that it takes all of our moral fiber just to make it through our next shift without quitting, or screaming at someone, or quitting while screaming at someone then going home to take a well-deserved nap. We only imagine doing those things, of course, and after deep breaths, stiff drinks, and some sleep, we mostly return to our jobs the next day - thanks to unemployment pay being laughably inadequate, rent still being due, and an apocalyptic American election looming. It's understandable then, when the toothless vision encompassed by 'supporting America's work force' brings unearned applause and back slapping, as though someone might finally do something to improve the conditions. wages, or Satan help us the benefits available at our places of employment. But for my fellow retail workers - register jockeys, store display builders, clothing hawkers, stock room managers, mannequin dressers, grocery sellers and stockers, order takers, food delivery travelers and folders of t-shirts, I need to disabuse you of that notion pretty quickly. Don't get pulled in by bland rhetoric and demonstrative hand gestures. Whichever ass indents large and expensive furniture in the White House come January, it will not be concerned with our plight. We are, as ever, totally fucked.

Depending on which books you prefer, Labor Day in the U.S. was introduced by either carpenter Peter McGuire or machinist Matthew Maguire in 1882, as a way to celebrate national prosperity wrought through the toil of America's working class, mostly the unionized parts of it. Whether the confusion regarding this holiday's founding stems from location, intent, or the eerie similarity in both gentlemen's nomenclature is pretty moot in this day and age. If my kid asked who started Labor Day, my response of 'some white dude who worked with his hands' efficiently covers all the details mentioned above.  It is a flip description, but also an accurate one that has stubbornly remained in our collective psyche, despite all of the supposed progress between 1882 and 2020. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, those hallowed institutions to which all American politicians ingratiate themselves - manufacturing and construction, accounted  for 12,839 jobs and 7,492 jobs in 2019, respectively. These are the sort of labor markets that conjure up a very...specific idea of American worker, one that enjoys piss-colored beer, terrible monthly haircuts at a local barber shop, working on their own cars, and unabashed fetishization on the part of our government. If I had to spell it out, it would go S-T-R-A-I-G-H-T-W-H-I-T-E-M-A-L-E, and it is the holy grail of support after which all public officials chase.  A quick Google image search for Labor Day produces multiple pictures of cartoon workers in chef whites, police uniforms, business suits with briefcases,  and hard hats - many, many hard hats. The workers are are featureless save the hard, bleached elipses standing in for a smile and square shoulders indicating that our labor force is overwhelmingly virile and male, much as they were in a now famous photo depicting 11 hardy men lunching atop a crossbeam some 800 feet above New York City in 1932. (One aside...those men earned every fucking penny, I mean Christ Almighty just looking at that photo makes my nervous anus want to jump directly into my mouth. Why, WHY would you eat lunch that high?!)

If I took Google and public officials at their word, the workforce that sustains our great American experiment hasn't changed much in 100 years, give or take a few lady nurses. The numbers, however, tell a different story, and it is a story that includes 15,644 human souls working in retail in 2019, more than manufacturing or construction in the same year. An even larger dominance can be found in hospitality and leisure, which accounted for 16, 575 jobs that same year. 

There seems to be some disconnect between political words and everyday reality. Based on the numbers above, our president and senators should be campaigning at hotels

 

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