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On Labor Day

There’s something slightly melancholy about Labor Day. The holiday announces the end of the lazy days of summer, when the children return to school, the adults turn their attention to politics and other unpleasant chores, and the days grow short as we reach September.

There’s an ambivalence about the meaning of the holiday, too. Many people regard the day as an honor to all those who labor under the curse of Adam, as a good a cause for celebration as any, but in fact the holiday is intended to honor the capital-L Labor of the union movement, which hardly seems worth honoring at all.

Whatever beneficial role the union movement might have played in the past, it has now fallen into widespread and well-deserved disrepute. Membership in private sector unions is at a historic low and falling, the vast majority of the working class that the unions claim to represent want nothing to do with them, and the union bosses are regarded with a low level of trust. Some of the unions still have enough political clout to wind up in control of General Motors, but that could soon prove temporary.

The public sector unions remain a formidable force, but they might have also reached a peak of influence. After losing the recall election to the heroically union-busting governor earlier this year in Wisconsin, birthplace of the public sector union and home to a larger-than-usual number of leftist loons, they seem to be in an unlikely position to prevail in the inevitable upcoming battles with other governors and state legislatures. Without the government-granted power of coercion they seem to shed members at a rapid rate, and that is likely to become the norm. The teachers’ unions are also powerful, and a major impediment to the much needed reforms, but even they suddenly seem vulnerable to scrutiny by a public that can’t help noticing how very stupid the young people seem these days.

Which is no reason not to fire up the grill and charbroil a couple of burgers in honor of all the workingmen and workingwomen out there, and to hoist a beer or two in their honor. Those unsung slobs have done a remarkable job of keeping America fed, fueled, caffeinated, and contented despite the catastrophic leadership of their betters, and that more than justifies an extra day of summer at the lake. As the great Merle Haggard once put it, hey, hey the workingman.

— Bud Norman

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