Our History of Labor: Strike One! Strike Two!

Exhibit from the earliest factory strike in America, Rhode Island 1824

I suspect many of us are enjoying this three-day weekend: Labor Day, Back to School, End of Summer, Back to Work. Of course, many kids have already gone to school–or some semblance of it, with masks and shortened days–and those who work have probably been doing so and will continue. But any time’s the right time for a Holiday, isn’t it?

The focus of this holiday has always been barbecues and the last little celebration before the chill of autumn begins. Yet, unlike Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, or Christmas, there’s rarely a thought given to the reason the day itself. Let’s change that.

Let’s talk about Labor.

Picture from UFCW.org celebrating Labor Day

If you remember your high school American History — or if you google it — the late 1880s always pops up as the “birth” of Labor Movement. This is both true and false. America, like other places with expanding factories and machines in the late 19th century, saw a rise in demands for better treatment of workers. But demands didn’t spring out of nowhere in 1886, the date of the first government-sanctioned Labor Day. History did not begin in 1886. Worker demands go back further than that.

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Age Is Literally Only a Number

When I was younger, I could not imagine myself the age I am now. Not even if I could have morph-aged myself, a technology which was not available when I was younger.

Photo courtesy of PlaidZebra.com.

Today is my birthday, Bastille Day in France. I’ve never been to France on my birthday, but I have always enjoyed thinking of a vast celebration occurring on “my behalf.” In reality, if I went to France on my birthday while others were celebrating, they would probably shrug and continue celebrating Their Day (not My Day). It would be like being born on Christmas or New Year’s. No one would celebrate you because they are celebrating the other holiday. On second thought, remind me not to go to France on my birthday.

Birthdays Are Confusing

A well-wisher welcomed me into my sixth decade, and I thought, that sounds horrible. But no, it is my sixth decade, and I’m already digging it. The sixth decade is the beginning of the third triade, and it will be the best, no doubt.

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Everyone is Green (Not Necessarily Irish)

Celtic knots in the Book of Kells. Photo at Wikipedia.

Ninety percent of Americans are not Irish. Thus, it has always confused me that everyone wants to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. If your heritage is Irish, more power to you, please feel free to immerse yourself in your culture. If you are in Ireland, I have no doubt it was a gay old time. I don’t mean to burst anyone’s bubble –so much so that I have waited two days, until after the last vestiges of the green beer hangovers are gone, not wanting to interrupt merrymaking. Far be it for me to throw shade at frivolity.

Is Everyone Really Irish in America on St. Patrick’s Day?

But why in the sam heck is March 17 so entrenched as an annual holiday? Every U.S. calendar in the month of March has a giant shamrock symbol on it. Yet, the vast majority of us aren’t Irish, and we don’t all get our own cultural holidays, do we?

It particularly never ceases to amaze me when my diverse Bay Area colleagues, whose English is heavily tinged with accents from the Philippines, Ecuador, Hong Kong, and Mumbai, remind me that we will all need to wear green. What color do I get to wear on Polish heritage day? When is Diwali again? What’s that traditional German dish that we all eat on …. really, there’s no German-American day? That’s particularly surprising when Germans comprise nearly 17% of our ancestry.

Map of U.S. ancestry by county. Photo from Vivid Maps.
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