How to Not Take Labor Day for Granted (And Still Have Fun)

By Seattle Mag


September 2, 2011

I’m pretty much slathering on sunscreen as I write this. I cannot wait to enjoy that 79 degree weather I keep hearing about, preferably as close to a large floating vessel or bevy of grilled hot dogs as possible.

However, considering the trends of unemployment and cutbacks that define our current historic moment, I do feel compelled to more seriously reflect on the forces behind this holiday. And I feel I should take advantage of my small soapbox to encourage others to do the same.

It is inspiring, after all, to remember the daring work of early organizers and crucial activist movements that have grown out of the plights of disenfranchised American workers. As you probably already know, in Seattle, labor organizers have made important contributions in the civil rights movement  – and WTO.

And there’s no reason you can’t enjoy reflecting on this important thread of our history. I mean, just look at those ladies above. They were making statements for fairness and fashion at the same time.

Here are some creative ideas to get you started on this mission, should you choose to accept it:

  • Invite folks you like over for dinner and ask each person to briefly research the back story of any labor activist. (Some suggestions to get your memory fired up: Mother Jones, Tyree Scott, Harry Bridges, Crystal Lee Sutton, Cesar Chavez, “The Wobblies” or any of these activists, or these or any of the groups noted in Walt Crowley’s overview of the history of labor movements in Washington state.) Then, in that conversational twilight between dinner and dessert, ask everyone to share a quote or interesting fact they picked up while researching their person. These are daring and radical thinkers – an interesting discussion is bound to unfold. 

  • Prefer more private reflection? Listen to NPR’s Simon Says Labor Day story from last year (“They’d Trade Labor Day for Days of Labor”) – a poignant meditation on unemployment during the recession. Or, watch Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs give an illuminating – and funny – TED talk on what we can learn from the typically unseen workers in our culture. It all begins as he is learning how to castrate a lamb…

  • Or, you can revisit Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ever-inspirational “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” speech, which he delivered in support of Memphis Sanitation workers on strike the day before his assassination. His points on developing a “dangerous unselfishness” are pretty interesting. Read it here. Or watch this excerpt – and just try not to get goose bumps: