My thoughts on the demise of Labor Day

Tree thinning camp, 1982

I used to be a laborer. Now I’m a “service provider.”

For the first twenty years of my working life, I worked with my hands. I started out on the butcher floor of a meat packing plant, built trails and fought fires for the Forest Service, wielded a chainsaw as a tree thinner, and repaired fishing boats in a shipyard. I know about sweat, fatigue and aching muscles, as well as the satisfaction of seeing a job well done.

Now I guess you’d say I’m a “religious services provider.” I love what I do, but it’s more like mental and emotional labor than physical labor.

It used to be that we held manual labor in high esteem. The farmer, the logger, and the fisherman were kings of their own worlds. Cooks, seamstresses, and factory workers held their heads high. But now everyone wants to work in the virtual economy: programmers, designers, producers, and consultants.

Labor Day was originally a day to remember that we all depend on the fruits of one another’s labor, especially physical labor. But with the demise of unions, factories and the Protestant work ethic, no one really cares about Labor Day. I can understand why those who have been put out of work by factories going overseas might be resentful. No one values their sacrifice any more.

The reality is that we no longer live in an industrial economy, and we’re not sure what labor means anymore. Our labor is now a class system: high-paid tech workers and entrepeneurs, information professionals (doctors, lawyers, consultants), team workers (the Amazon masses), skilled labor (someone has to be a plumber), and at the bottom, the spurned unskilled labor. Maybe we should rename Labor Day. Here’s a few suggestions:

“Service Providers Day”

“Interdependence Day”

“Un-Labor Day”

“Virtual Labor Day”

What do you think? Any ideas?