I have been working since I was 15 years old. The week after my 15th birthday I asked my mother to drive me to the local Social Security office and very proudly got my first Social Security card and found a job at a small local Belasco Theatre, where I became a part-time usherette. They were showing only one movie, SOUND OF MUSIC, continuously. Sitting in the back of that theatre that September, I must have watched the VonTrapps frolic their way across the Alps two hundred fifty times while eating free (though stale) popcorn.
It was my first job, and from it I learned that all jobs have perks (free popcorn and movies), and draw backs (having to show up every night — on time, having to sweep out the theatre and having to pick up after other people). Since then there has been a long parade of jobs of every manner and description as I worked my way up through seemingly every job there is to have in America — including cashier, farm hand, ice cream cart peddler, door to door salesperson, dog handler, waitress and bartender, switchboard operator and a dozen more. Every job that I held taught me something, and I took it with me.
That was 50 years ago, and looking back over years of Labor Day celebrations, I am still amazed that I believe that I have enjoyed a paid day off on Labor Day for 50 years. They were all tinged with the sadness of knowing we had to return work or school in the morning, but the concept of a paid holiday is delicious, even when one knows that freedom will be followed by once again having to take up the yoke of obligation.
But this Labor Day celebration is even more special to me, as I can feel the end of my “corporate” career waiting just over the ridge. When you reach a certain age, Wall Street pushes you out to pasture. They want younger hungrier blood on the streets and I feel the hot breath of pressure on the back of my neck.
Rather than feeling sad this year, I am happy. The exhausting commute will end, the ugly office politics and the days of being a victim of poor management decisions are almost behind me, I also feel grateful to the Labor Movement for the opportunities they have brought me — for the chance to build a good career – a small town woman with no remarkable skills or connections. It was the sacrifices of the Labor Day that made such a thing possible. Brave coal miners, factory laborers and itinerant farmers suffered mightily so that I could sit here in air conditioned comfort, look out the window and contemplate my freedom to quilt and sew today, and accumulate enough benefits to be able to stand on the edge of a new career — one that I will start that celebrates my creativity and my joy of crafts.
While I won’t be able to live like the Elois in the movie “Time Machine,” and still have to earn money somehow, the many opportunities for craft entrepreneurship could only be imagined by my great great grandmother, who sold eggs she gathered on the side of a dirt road to make money for school books for her children.
Publishing and selling my novel, learning to become the kind of quilter that people commission, knitting saleable knitted goods and beading jewelry that people scramble to buy, these the new career goals and aspirations brought to me by the sacrifices of the Labor movement so that people could accumulate benefits, and stop working with dignity when the time came..
Don’t let those rights slip away, fellow Americans. I see the wolf at the door… I see corporate America jumping to take advantage of an overcrowded, over qualified labor market and people just like me — looking to earn a living. Stand up for your rights — you too deserve a decent wage, you too deserve time off for family and personal reasons, you too deserve a decent working life. Fight on.
I am delighted to have benefited from the opportunities brought to me by the Labor Movement, and climbed the Alps of my career to reach the other side. Ever the adolescent sitting in the back of a darkened theatre, I will be sitting in my rocker on the porch cheering you on. I celebrate the workers of the world today. Happy end of summer, Happy Labor Day and See you in September!