9-5 Labor Day
By JAY MILLER
SANTA FE -- Labor Day is a most unusual holiday. It doesn't honor a particular individual or event. It honors the working men and women of America.
Of course, that's not what Labor Day means to most people. It means the end of summer and the last chance to get a long weekend in the mountains, at the beach or in the backyard. Similarly, Memorial Day is the first chance to do such things.
Why do the United States and Canada celebrate Labor Day on the first Monday in September while the rest of the world celebrates it on May 1?
Actually both observances had their beginnings in the United States in the early 1880s. But May Day events had more of a class struggle slant to them. They were often rowdy and ended with police action.
Labor unions were strong in those days. Workers were getting tired of 16-hour days, six days a week, in dangerous working conditions. And they were ready to do whatever it took to change things.
Political leaders, realizing they would have to do something to lessen worker unrest decided they would have to recognize the legitimacy of labor unions. One way to do that was to set aside a day to honor them. And it wasn't difficult to decide which day to choose.
So May Day observances gradually faded out here while spreading and gaining popularity in the rest of the world. Later, May Day became associated with communism. In the '50s, the Cold War and McCarthyism spelled the end to May Day labor observances.
In recent years, Labor Day observances also have dwindled as we have moved from an economy influenced by Henry Ford, who wanted workers paid enough to afford to buy his cars to an economy influenced by Wal-Mart, which wants an economy with wages low enough that workers will have to shop at discount stores.
The contribution of American workers toward making our nation the strongest in the world is recognized less every year by the public and media. Look at your newspaper today.
Several articles and many ads will mention Labor Day, but not in terms of recognizing workers. The only thing getting close may be an item noting that the percentage of workers belonging to labor unions is dwindling.
Beating out news addressing the purpose of this national holiday, will be the eighth annual rehash of Princess Diana's death. Something might be said about Mother Teresa, who died the same week, but not likely. Mother Teresa has been put on the fast track to sainthood, but in the public eye, Diana attained it immediately upon her death.
Also receiving less than its due recognition this weekend was V-J Day. The end of the most horrible war in human history certainly deserves a holiday as much as some of the others we celebrate. The end of World War I is accorded a holiday even though that armistice treaty ended up resulting in an even bigger war to settle matters.
Of course two national holidays in one week wouldn't work. Even moving it up to August 15, the date Japan announced it would surrender, is still a little close.
But like Pearl Harbor Day on December 6 and D-Day on June 6, there should be considerable recognition of such a significant event. Why should we recognize an attack that began the war more than the end of that war?
Is it because we used atomic bombs and aren't too proud of it? Regardless of what you may think about that decision, World War II, unlike World War I, ended in a manner such that no world wars have been fought since. And nuclear weapons haven't been used since.
Some evidence has surfaced that one reason Japan took so long to admit defeat was that it hoped it could hold out until its atomic bomb would be ready.
JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail) firstname.lastname@example.org