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Labor Day? Bah, Humbug

Aug
31
2007

Once again we’re coming up on that great, big middle finger to the workers of America, otherwise known as Labor Day. Yup, you residents of the good ole U.S. of A. get one lousy day off as a reward for working through the summer, not to mention the fall, winter and spring.

Oh sure – give the workers Labor Day to close down the summer, a bittersweet moment for anyone who doesn’t have summer SAD. The three-day weekend to end the summer is a bit of solace for working through the heat when you should have been taking naps and drinking iced tea, and a reminder that the light remaining when you struggled out of your office at night, and the chance to fight Friday evening beach traffic, are soon to be snatched away.

In other parts of the world, they celebrate workers on May Day, May 1, calling to mind spring and fertility and Maypoles and other things which make for a cheery celebration (and a little bit of rabble-rousing as well). May Day seemed a bit too pinko for the U.S., so we celebrate on the first Monday in September.

So American workers get one long weekend to try to build up their strength before it’s back to the amped up responsibilities of fall. Over here in Europe they’ve been restoring forces too – by taking off August. Not universally, of course, and in some countries, including Spain, people are starting to divide their vacation time up throughout the year, but when you add it up they still get a nice big chunk o’ time off.

If I ever want to shock a European, I mention how much vacation time I got starting out at my first job out of college: one week. In other words, five days. Flat. Gentlemen stagger back, openmouthed; ladies reach for their smelling salts; and small children, well I make sure there are no small children in the room when I whisper this fact from my past.

“How can this be?” my European listeners cry out in amazement. How can Americans live without vacation? And what do you do when your children are out of school in the summer? Well, I say, we’re not lazy-ass, wine-swilling, dole-takers. To which they reply, at least we’re not work-obsessed, uncultured, money-hounds. And thus another blow is struck for harmonious trans-Atlantic relations.

The real answer has to do with the differing labor histories in the U.S. and Western European countries, with the lack of modern labor movement strength in the U.S., with the fact that Socialism is a legitimate political option in Europe. From that vantage point, May Day looks better and better. Besides, what is Europe – really – but a collection of former empires? A fact which the countries involved have accepted to a greater or lesser degree as they try to figure out how to keep the good life going. Part of that good life they’ve sorted out is vacation.

The U.S., sooner or later, will have that former empire status, so why shouldn’t we learn from places that have been-there-done-that and take on those trappings of the good life before running the world no longer occupies our days?

Instead, Americans aren’t even taking the vacation days they have. We’re never really switched off from the office, the work-life balance idea seems to mean 12 hours for the office and 12 for everything else and – what’s worse in many respects – we’re teaching our kids that this is normal.

But hey, maybe the beach traffic won’t be so bad tomorrow afternoon.

Have a good weekend.

Share  Posted by Deborah Klosky at 8:44 AM | Permalink

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