Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day Celebrates Productivity


“Productiveness is your acceptance of morality, your recognition of the fact that you choose to live—that productive work is the process by which man controls his existence, a constant process of acquiring knowledge and shaping matter to fit man’s purpose, of translating an idea into physical form, of remaking the earth into the image of one’s values—that all work is creative work if done by a thinking mind…--that your work is yours to choose, that your choice is as wide as your mind…” – Ayn Rand, “Galt’s Speech”

Before the industrial era of capitalism, social celebrations were an escape from labor.  In the 19th century, workers in Europe took the traditional first day of summer, May 1, for themselves.  But in America everything is new and labor unions in New York City took the first Monday in September for their celebration in 1883. President Grover Cleveland declared the first national Labor Day holiday in 1887.  Apparently, he acted in reaction to the Europeans and communists, and in fear of May Day, but the impetus came from the labor unions of New York City.  Furthermore in those four years, 30 states, starting with Oregon, already recognized the day.  Labor Day was a spontaneous American celebration in honor of productive labor, not class war. After all, in America, workers could become capitalists.

Jeff Yagher as Jeff Allen in Atlas Shrugged Part II

Typically the American Labor Day is a family event, the last weekend of the summer for swimming, picnicking, or vacationing.  Just as Thanksgiving is for celebrating our productivity with a bountiful family meal, Labor Day is our enjoyment of the leisure we bought with our purposeful, marketable efforts.  And it is a day, not of sloth and idleness, a surcease from drudgery, but a day of activities, of plans carried out.  It is a bit ironic that after the busy holiday we find actual paid employment a welcome relief.

In 1972, Edwin Newman interviewed Ayn Rand for his show “Speaking Freely” on NBC-TV. Among other statements, Ayn Rand said: “I am not an enemy of labor unions. Quite the contrary. I think that they are the only decent group today, ideologically. I think they are the ones who will save this country, and save capitalism, if anybody can.”  She went on to say: “But the one flaw is that labor unions are government-enforced and become a monopoly and can demand higher wages than the market can offer. This union power creates the unemployable. It creates this vast group of people, the unskilled laborers who have no place to go for work. The artificial boosting of the skilled laborer’s income causes unemployment on the lower rungs of society. Every welfare measure works that way. It doesn’t affect the so-called rich, if that the humanitarians are worried about it, always affects the poor.”

A few minutes earlier, on the same show, speaking of the proper role of government, she said
“But on the matter of protecting people from physical danger, if certain conditions of employment, let us say, are unsafe and it can be proved that there is a physical risk – I don’t say that we have to wait until somebody dies – then the employer who is creating this risk can be sued, and can be severely punished financially. In other words, there can be a law protecting a man from physical injury by another man. In this case, the employer who puts men into conditions of danger – not accidentally, but intentionally or carelessly – can be penalized because he is infringing the right of his workers not to be injured physically.”  
The entire interview and many others are collected in the anthology Objectively Speaking: Ayn Rand Interviewed, edited by Marlene Podritske and Peter Schwartz (Lexington Books, 2009). Necessary Facts September 2, 2013.
Usually, she rode free: her pins for the Commercial Telegraphers Union of American and the Order of Railroad Telegraphers were her pass.  They were different lines of work.  Railroads were 20 years slow in figuring out that they could manage and control trains with the only thing that traveled faster.  In addition, commodities brokers, hotels, banks, and many other enterprises also needed telegraphers.  Mattie Kuhn worked for both.  So, she belonged to both unions. Ma Kiley: Railroad Telegrapher by Thomas C. Jepsen, reviewed on Necessary Facts 

Previously on NecessaryFacts

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