This is it, of course, the last hurrah of the summer. Despite life-threatening Katrina-like hurricanes in the American Southland, and the over the top pomp of the Republican convention in Tampa, the focus of many
folks is this coming weekend and where they will spend it bidding farewell to Summer, 2012.
But wait! What is this weekend holiday called again? Oh, right. Labor Day. Officially, Labor Day is designated as the day our Nation pays tribute to the contributions and achievements of American workers. It almost seems quaint, nostalgic, doesn't it?
It reminds me of the murals in the Whiting Hotel in my hometown Stevens Point, Wisconsin. The hotel was lucky enough to interest a terrific artist named E. John Pfiffner, a relative of people in Stevens Point, in creating murals that memorialized mid-Wisconsin laborers and factory workers in poignant detail. The men in the pictures are loggers, jamming logs down the Wisconsin River, or they wield heavy tools, like sledgehammers and shovels, and the women are shown to be factory workers. It is the glorification of people like Rosie the Riveter during the Second World War. For many yuears those murals graced the walls of the restaurant/bar of the hotel, where my family went for Sunday breakfast on special occasions.
I learned today that the Hotel Whiting is now an apartment building, totally remodeled although the exterior remains as it was when I grew up in Stevens Point. And the building is on the National Historic Register. But the only mention of the murals in my research today was a postcard that was up for sale on eBay. It shows the wall section of the mural dedicated to Wisconsin River loggers. I'm told that although the restaurant is long gone, a local business is officed on the first floor and they are fortunate to have those murals as a reminder of the people who were responsible for building Stevens Point and other cities like it in the Midwest.
The worker depicted in those marvelous murals seems a far cry from the typical employee today. We have moved from the heavy lifting that so many did in the past to what is referred to as "knowledge" work. More people doing work by keystroke at a computer screen than digging ditches.
There is something heroic about those murals. They gave me the feeling that at the end of the day, those people arrived at home exhausted. They knew, though, that they had done a good day's work. That hole finally got dug. The bridge was that much closer to completion. I'm not so sure all the knowledge workers in today's economy have that same sense of completeness, of satisfaction in what was accomplished at the end of their day. It all seems a bit, well, thankless and intangible now.
And then there are all the people who wish they had work of some kind, any kind, but are jobless. America's companies don't seem eager to take them on, as they continually look for ways to cut costs. Intriguing, since in China the name of the game is figuring out how to get as many people employed as possible...there are so many of them. In the U.S., companies focus on the reverse, intent on using as few people as possible, an effort totally understandable since employees and their benefits and health care and all the rest of it are expensive.
Will there be conversations this weekend about Labor Day in America and what it means now? I suspect there will be few of them. The talk will be of back-to-school sales, of new fall clothes, of how tired we all are of our politician's posturing, which sports team is playing which this weekend and who should win.
There won't be much work done on Labor Day. And the offices in the former Hotel Whiting, where the Midwestern workers in those murals look down on the knowledge workers sitting at desks below them, will be empty.