There is honor in labor. Work is the medicine
of the soul. It is more: It is your very life, without which you
would amount to little.
- Grenville Kleiser
This statement about work does make one feel better about getting up in
the morning and heading off to whatever job. But it's a tad
romanticized: The truth is that for most of mankind's history, without
work we wouldn't amount to anything at all because we'd starve to death.
Later there were alternatives - inherited wealth, or dependence on
charity or government programs. I think my soul could do well with
inherited wealth as its medicine; I'd find something creative to do even
if I didn't need the paycheck, just as I will when I retire and collect
the Social Security that I've earned.
Unless I were seriously disabled, my soul couldn't thrive on economic
dependence. So I'm glad I've always had a job - though I never assumed
someone or society owed me one, or that a union should protect mine once
I had it.
When I turned 16 I walked into my small-town drugstore and asked for
part-time work at the soda fountain and behind the counter taking
prescriptions. Later got a job at the local five & dime. I started in
"candy," didn't care for "hosiery," and loved working "toys" at
Christmas. Earned college money teaching tennis and archery at the park,
and making carbon thingies on a factory assembly line.
This factory job was my first experience with a union.
We students liked to compete with each other to see how many thingies we
could assemble during our shift. Only the foreman told us to slow down
so we wouldn't set an "unrealistic" pace.
I guess I could understand why the permanent workers resented us,
college kids who were just passing through. But the carbon plants
provided stable employment to most of my hometown and created essential
I count as labor the years I was married and raising my son, though my
ex-husbands might tell you that I didn't work very hard at homemaking.
However, I did work part-time as a swimming instructor and lifeguard.
After the second divorce I became a full-time secretary, then executive
director at Citizens for Limited Taxation. My soul was always
well-medicated with this final, demanding career, which became my "very
life." It was fun to make a living by arguing and advocating for working
people who organized as taxpayers.
Some welfare mothers once took a bus to visit what they thought would be
a Marblehead mansion. Besides being surprised by the small house, they
were disappointed not to find me at home on a weekday.
Now I have a home office; but with welfare reform, many of the formerly
dependent are too busy to visit me to demand higher taxes. I'd bet that
their souls are feeling better about themselves.
Some of us get off on the wrong foot with work because as children we
were taught the Bible story about Adam and Eve. They had nothing to do
but hang out in the garden until they disobeyed God, who sentenced them
to life at hard labor: "In the sweat of thy brow thy shalt eat
Well, actually, God sentenced Adam to work for food, and Eve to
difficult labor producing children. She was also told to obey Adam.
We got over the obeying thing, and don't really think of having children
as punishment. We should get over thinking of work that way too -
especially since not all work is as hard as farming. Over the eons,
we've made the best of the original bad situation, and now there is
honor in labor, bread and soup for the soul.
The U.S. Department of Labor Web site describes this weekend's holiday
thusly: "Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the
labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements
of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the
contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and
well-being of our country".
It was good of the unions to create this particular summertime break,
but they don't own the concept. Along with taking a break myself, I want
to take this opportunity to thank all the working people who add to the
strength and prosperity of this country, starting with the members of
the United States Armed Forces who defend, as well as enhance, its
well-being. No more honorable job than theirs!
In the same general category are the police, fire and related personnel
whose mandate is protecting the safety of all other working people. I am
grateful to the medical community, especially well-represented here in
Massachusetts, as is the high-technology community that carries our
country into the future.
I honor the members of the media who keep me informed and entertained;
all those professionals who can make and fix the things that puzzle me,
like my car, my computer, and plumbing and electrical systems; those who
produce and sell the food and goods I consume; and those government
workers who, despite Massachusetts' systemic flaws, get the job done.
Let's all have a wonderful, well-deserved Labor Day before getting back
to our honorable jobs.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem
News, Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, (Lawrence) Eagle-Tribune, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence
Journal and other newspapers.