Monday, September 2, 2019

54. Labor Day

A billion years ago—or more accurately 40—The Viking Press (now Penguin Random House) published a book by Norton Juster entitled So Sweet to Labor, which contained lots of line illustrations from 19th century magazines. Kirkus gave it a chilly review, but I found fascinating the descriptions of woman's work and the various tools that helped their labors. Possibly, the images caught my eye as much as the sociological import of woman's work—constant and unpaid.

Labor Day* celebrates the Labor Movement, workers and their contributions to our country. According to history on Time magazine's site, Rep. Lawrence McGann (D-IL), who sat on the Committee on Labor, argued for the Labor Day holiday in a report he submitted on May 15, 1894, for a holiday President Cleveland signed into law on June 28, 1894. Some of his report states:

The use of national holidays is to emphasize some great event or principle in the minds of the people by giving them a day of rest and recreation, a day of enjoyment, in commemoration of it. By making one day in each year a public holiday for the benefit of workingmen the equality and dignity of labor is emphasized. Nothing is more important to the public weal than that the nobility of labor be maintained. So long as the laboring man can feel that he holds an honorable as well as useful place in the body politic, so long will he be a loyal and faithful citizen.
The celebration of Labor Day as a national holiday will in time naturally lead to an honorable emulation among the different crafts beneficial to them and to the whole public. It will tend to increase the feeling of common brotherhood among men of all crafts and callings, and at the same time kindle an honorable desire in each craft to surpass the rest.
There can be no substantial objection to making one day in the year a national holiday for the benefit of labor. The labor organizations of the whole country, representing the great body of our artisan population, request it. They are the ones most interested. They desire it and should have it. If the farmers, manufacturers, and professional men are indifferent to the measure, or even oppose it, which there is no reason to believe, that still would constitute no good objection, for their work can be continued on holidays as well as on other days if they so desire it. Workingmen should have one day in the year peculiarly their own. Nor will their employers lose anything by it. Workingmen are benefited by a reasonable amount of rest and recreation. Whatever makes a workingman more of a man makes him more useful as a craftsman. 
Who is today's working man? The coal miners our current President says he helps? Immigrants doing jobs no one wants? Anyone (no matter which gender or gender identification) who isn't an executive?

• • •

Enough digression, though. I want to page homage to my grandmothers, both of whom labored to feed and clothe their families (paternal grandmother; six kids; maternal grandmother: four kids) and both whom whom were gifted craftswomen and artisans.

My maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Mizii, started a bakery during the 1930s Great Depression when my grandfather was laid off. She was entrepreneurial, made her own pasta, cooked, and crocheted up a storm. She didn't make a big deal of anything and seemed very calm and unstressed, but her work shows a mathematical precision and astounding craftsmanship. While organizing keepsakes I'm temporarily holding for my brother, I unfolded a crocheted tablecloth by Nana Mizii. Each star/snowflake is exact and connected so precisely that the folded tablecloth lines up with scientific precision.

Salutes to the women whose craftsmanship, skills, and work may have helped to incite the Labor Movement.

*Bizarrely, the Department of Labor site includes a video touting the success of US Labor today (in short, it's major propaganda), BUT the link to the history of Labor Day yields a "Page Not Found."
(For September 2, 2019)

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