Monday, September 03, 2007

The Only Holiday Commissioned to Appease Striking Workers and to Avert a National Commercial Shut-Down

Labor Day is the only federally observed holiday that emerged out of a crucible of union strikes and a government bent on squelching the political organizing of workers at the end of the 19th Century. With Labor Day now mainly celebrated as an "official end of summer" and with department store sales, it looks like the government and the department stores won.

Nonetheless, Happy Labor Day! And some thoughts on work and dislocation from Stanley Aronowitz (steel worker, union organizer, and sociology professor, writing in 1992's The Politics of Identity):

The disjunction of work and living space obliges many to travel for as much as two hours to the job, leaving little time or energy for ordinary social intercourse in bars, bowling allies, or union halls. The classic model of contemporary mass society is provided by the suburban or exurban location of industrial and commercial working spaces. The horizontal patterns of home construction produce low density living arrangements. Hence, the nuclear family, the shopping center, the mass media constitute the nexus of social relationships that often effectively countervail the collective tasks formed in the workplace.
Critics impugn the internet used as a social medium and as a surrogate of face-to-face interaction.

But the precursor and all-time-champion of dislocation is the mass exercise of holing up in a car each morning and each evening to make the long trips to and from the suburbs with no political interaction beyond the muck and the silt of talk radio. That effectively undermined face-to-face political organizing outside of distant and dispersed communities, and it dulled the teeth of social change from the otherwise turbulent grassroots.

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