Then, now, and future.
Happy Labo(u)r Day! That’s what the day used to be about: putting the “u” in Labor. You can’t spell labour without you, and without you and your labour this planet would be a primitive state of nature, red in tooth and claw. Consider the words of Peter J McGuire, General Secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, proposing the very first Labor Day a mere century-and-a-third ago. The new day would be an occasion, he said, to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold”.
What a crazy! All the grandeur we behold comes from man and his work? What fossil fuel is he inhaling? Today, rude nature is the state we aspire to, and you can’t even delve and carve a Keystone pipeline underneath it, out of sight. Labor itself, in the sense Mr McGuire used the term, is morally dubious among our elites, and, down at the other end, simply unknown.
By 2012, one tenth of the adult population had done not a day’s work since Tony Blair took office on May 1st 1997 – a decade and a half earlier. In such households, the weekday ritual of rising, dressing, and leaving for gainful employment is entirely unknown. In many parts of America, the “conversation”, as they say on MSNBC, is between the dependent class and the governing class that ministers to them and keeps them (more or less) in line. If you’re a convenience store owner in, say, Ferguson, Missouri, your low-skilled service jobs are the only labor on offer, and, for your pains, you get burned and looted by the dependent class while your 911 calls go unanswered by the governing class, both of which you fund.
Now there’s a glimpse of the world to come, for those who wish to ponder it.
If you want to see what “the masses” are meant to look like, you can’t do better than Metropolis, Fritz Lang’s 1926 expressionist masterpiece.
It’s a magnificent film, and a lot of its assumptions – the big surveillance state – remain highly relevant. But its conception of work isn’t exactly the way it panned out: The workers are slaves, living underground, chained to the levers, wheels, cranks and cogs of a vast machine, dehumanized by the crushing anonymity of their servitude, etc, etc.
Alas, nothing dates faster than a futuristic vision: Today, the nightmare that beckons is quite the opposite. Instead of a world in which the workers are forced to operate huge, clanking machines below the earth all day long, the machines are small and silent and so computerized no manpower is required and the masses have to be sedated by shallow, shiny distractions that enable you to watch Metropolis on a pocket gizmo an-inch-and-a-half wide.
What comes after the Labor Day cook-out? Big Government decreases social mobility, which has spent the new millennium declining remorselessly in America. Dependency ultimately leads to a society as rigid as that of Metropolis. The elites, as Michelle Obama did, do a little light diversity outreach for 350 grand a year; the middle classes man the Department of Paperwork; and beneath them is a vast dysfunctional underclass that, if you’re lucky, is too torpid to riot too often. It’s a subtler vision of hell than Fritz Lang’s, but just as hellish.
Labor Day is an appropriate occasion on which to reflect upon the dignity of work and self-sufficiency and its indispensability to a civilized society. There may be something down the pike that can replace it, but, on the evidence so far, welfare, minimum-wage service jobs, heroin and meth aren’t it. Which is why Donald Trump won the election.
And then, y’know, this happened.