Happy Labor Day 2015

Death chart

Death Chart in Industry for Allegheny County

I wrote this post in 2012. This blog was slightly over a year old but had collected fewer views in 14 months than it usually does in one month today. I am re-posting this for three reasons. 1) I like it and I think it remains relevant. 2) Most of you didn’t see it. The only current follower who liked this in 2012 was Cindy Knoke – thanks Cindy! And, 3) I want a day off. So, here you have it folks, a blast from the past with a few more pictures and a few less words.

Welcome to the least respected holiday on our calendar – A federal holiday since 1894, Labor Day is better known as the end of summer, the serious start of school, and a great time to buy just about anything, rather than a day to recognize workers. Why shouldn’t we treat this day the way we want to, after all, we are all workers…right? Well, we might all work, but I’m not sure about all of us deserving a holiday to honor our work.

I am fortunate to have worked in a variety of industries during my life. Today, I am an “information worker” meaning that I facilitate the processing of data so that others can complete transactions and review and report the status of those transactions. I like the way that sounds, and I like my job, but it’s not like I’m pushing a wheelbarrow full of heavy stuff up a steep incline – I’m sitting at a desk. On the way to this position, I worked on a farm, in a machine shop, on a river boat, at the Post Office, for a home improvement contractor and I owned and operated a cabinet shop. All of those jobs involved physical activity, the kind of work that takes a toll on your body and leaves you tired at the end of the day.

One of the things that I try to facilitate today is collaboration. As good as we get at routing documents from one person to another, sharing screens, voice and video, we never come close to the collaboration of the shop-floor. We made gun barrels in the machine shop where I worked. Although I’m sure the process has been automated or enhanced by automation, in 1970 it was human powered:

A piece of steel was cut or a forged blank was cleaned and prepared. Then a hole was drilled. Then the outside of the barrel was cut to its final shape. Then the inside was reamed to a fine finish and then “rifled”. After that, a variety of operations were performed to prepare the barrel to fit onto the firing mechanism of a gun.

Each of those steps involved one or more people completing operations on specific machines. If one person messed up, the next guy was immediately affected, the whole shop was affected. Orders shipped late, or overtime had to be paid, or days off and holidays had to be spent working. You felt collaboration in that setting, and chronic failures were not tolerated – you weren’t late, you weren’t slow (you weren’t too fast, but that’s another story), and the quality of your work was measured.

Some of the ways in which those tasks have been automated represent a change for the better. Those jobs were dangerous. In the short time that I worked in that shop, I was injured several times and I witnessed many other injuries. As much as we paid attention to quality, human error was always part of the finished product. My work was checked with thickness gauges and micrometers but I was doing the checking. If I worked more than eight hours, I was paid more, so the cost/price increased. Today’s machinery can run non-stop, performing operations with flawless precision without the need for time off. They produce higher quality gun barrels for less money and we can make more of them than we did in the 1970s, and fewer people are injured and they are injured less often. We also employ fewer people.

I was working in that machine shop in order to pay for college. My coworkers were earning their living. The circumstances of their lives defined that job as their best opportunity. They were good, hard-working men who were paid well for their time, but not well enough to offset the conditions under which they labored. That shop was the worst place that I ever worked, and that was in the 1970s, 65 years after the western Pennsylvania County in which that shop was located kept the “Death Calendar” pictured above. The men whose deaths were annotated by red crosses on that calendar, labored in far worse conditions than I did, in order to mine, make and move the material that powered this country to industrial dominance. We enjoyed relative luxury in that machine shop due to the benefits earned by the workers who labored before us – the people for whom this holiday was established.

As you enjoy this holiday, think of those people. Think of the people who built this country and the people who still work in difficult and / or dangerous jobs so that we can consume the products we now take for granted. We still have an abundance of skilled people in this country; we need to find a way to put them back to work. When we do that, then we can truly celebrate Labor Day.

About Dan Antion

Husband, father, woodworker, cyclist, photographer, geek - oh wait, I’m writing this like I only have 140 characters. I am all those things, and more, and all of these passions present me with opportunities to observe, and think about things that I can’t write about in other places. I have started this blog to catch the stuff that falls out, overflows and just plain doesn’t fit the other containers in my life.
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66 Responses to Happy Labor Day 2015

  1. Well worth repeating Dan. Have a fun, relaxing Labor Day. Hugs!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The word ‘labor’ has certainly changed over the years as you aptly pointed out. In my grandparents’ day, there wasn’t much of a problem with obesity because they worked from dawn to dusk. My husband and I ate out the other night and were across from a young couple in their 30’s who had come from a local large insurance company (laniards around their neck gave me the clue). They were heavy set and from the moment they sat down, each one was scrolling on their phone. When the food came, they ate with one hand and scrolled with the other. I don’t think they exchanged ten words the entire time scrolling all the way to the exit. I guess they were laboring away on their phones, but it is definitely a different definition of labor in 2015. :-) Have a restful weekend Dan.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. loisajay says:

    Good post, Dan. We just had a discussion the other day at work about truly physical labor vs those with a college degree who work in air-conditioned offices. It would seem that we have degree’d ourselves out and now need those skilled laborers like construction workers, plumber and electrician who might have taken trade courses instead of college courses. Wages have gone up, but no matter what, they still labor more than the rest of us. Enjoy the day.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. MsTranquility says:

    Great post to share again, Dan, and I couldn’t agree more! Hope you have a wonderful and relaxing weekend ♥

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Don says:

    Great post Dan. In my book civilization is built on skilled physical labour. I base this on the kind of things I saw my old Dad and many of his friends do.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Almost Iowa says:

    There is usually a point in every job interview when they stop asking about you and invite you to ask about them. It is then I say, “Tell me about the job” and “Tell me about the people.”

    If the work is great and the people are great, you are in heaven. If the works is terrible, great people will see you through. If the people are terrible, great work will see you through. If the work is terrible and the people are terrible, you are in hell. Start looking for another job.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Dan Antion says:

      You’re right. Most of the jobs I’ve had have had both aspects covered. I have changed jobs many times, but usually to get to something I liked (or at least thought I would like) better. Current job has kept me happy for over 25 years.

      Like

  7. You are so right. This is relevant today. A wonderful tribute to the worker Dan.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Sammy D. says:

    Great post! Well worth repeating. The men and women who were instrumental in the industrialization of our country are often taken for granted, but their work was – as you say – risky, cold, hot, physical, dirty and critical to our economic advancement as a nation. I worked several college jobs where the distinction of “pay for college” and “lifers” was crystal clear. Far from feeling superior, I was in awe of the fortitude it would take to wake 5 days a week with that factory being your present and your future.

    There are many inter-connected reasons for the decline of our skilled labor force; I’m not sure we’ve adequately prepared for the losses of such a monumental transition.

    Great post, Dan.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks Sammy. I don’t think I know all the reasons and I certainly don’t have the answers, but appreciate the skills and the work ethic of the people I have worked with and the ones I know doing these jobs today. I don’t mean to slight those of us laboring at a computer either. those skills demand a lot of attention and very few are easy to master.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Sammy D. says:

    On a riverboat ??

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      The Gateway Clipper fleet. A nightly three-hour dinner dance cruise on the rivers in Pittsburgh. I worked for the company that supplied the meal. I stayed for the cruise and drove the pots and pans back to the shop. I spent some time serving food but I had some time to spend with the deck hands each night.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Dan Hen says:

    I like this post , too .

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Happy Labor Day weekend to you and your family, Dan, as well as to your readers. It’s good to reblog when it’s an older post. There is so much to say and write about labor and the workforce. I think it’s a great asset to have worked several jobs. Even when they are not what we end up doing for good, all work experiences are positive. I agree with you on the importance to respect everyone’s job. When we get respect we feel so much better about ourselves and it has deep resonance on the rest of the world around us. Great post, Dan.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Yikes what was the purpose of the “death calendar”? Was it supposed to be a warning to work safely. Kind of a bummer for the workers to have it hanging over them, literally. I admire people who can make things. I think it is a shame that we have lost much of that with robots and mechanization. And I think many people don’t know what Labor Day was about, except for barbeques and hot dogs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      I think it was just County record keeping Deborah but I sure wouldn’t have wanted to know it was growing at that rate. Most people seem to agree that we should preserve the meaning of other holidays but this one seems to just mean the end of summer.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. bikerchick57 says:

    Happy Labor Day, Dan. Enjoy the extra day of rest.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. cardamone5 says:

    Thanks for this reminder, Dan. During a recent conversation with my daughter, we discussed a garbage person’s job and how difficult and undesirable a job it is. Daughter said she thought they must not like their jobs, the way they throw the garbage cans down. While I agreed with her, I felt compelled to tell my daughter that for some, it is the only opportunity to pay the bills and that these people are as worthy as anybody else. We agreed we were grateful for their service, and remarked on what a difference these people make in our lives. Without them, we would be covered in mounds of our own filth. I will be sure to give them a wave, and maybe, a holiday bonus, for their trouble.

    Fondly,
    Elizabeth

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, Elizabeth, I don’t know about where you are, but here in the PNW they make a GOOD living! GOOD. Living.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      You’re right Elizabeth, without them, plumbers, electricians, construction workers, police, fire and ambulance workers, we would be in trouble. There are so many people who work hard, in jobs that grind away at their bodies, without whom, we would all suffer. It bothers me when people talk about cutting pensions and raising the age for Social Security as if everyone is sitting behind a desk. Actually, sitting behind a desk (and working at a computer) is what has caused/aggravated my shoulder injury, so I guess no occupation is safe. People work had to provide for their families. In doing so, they provide some benefit to the rest of us. They (we) deserve some recognition.

      Like

  15. “I wrote this post in 2012. This blog was slightly over a year old but had collected fewer views in 14 months than it usually does in one month today.” Well this is because you are so dang hot to day! Timely topics, a way with words . . . good friends! Mitchell and I misunderstand this holiday every year and think that we are SUPPOSED to toil away — and so we are working!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      Actually Kate. It’s because nobody was reading these post back then :) I love the people that have come to visit over the years. I didn’t want that to sound like bragging. It’s more that I wrote some things that I think we’re good but I don’t know if anyone read them. I don’t plan to revisit very many of them. Give yourself a break this year. I think you deserve it.

      Like

  16. You’ve had some fascinating jobs. I couldn’t help but feel sad picturing all those remorseless machine churning out guns nonstop. I know people pull the triggers, but I can’t help but feel it’s too easy and cheap to buy a gun here. I do honor the people who do the work, all of them. We are all part of this society, and we need each other. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t depend on the work of others — for computers, phones, internet, food, clothing, supplies, seed, equipment. Is anyone self sufficient anymore?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      I’m not sure we can be self-sufficient in this world, at least not in a lifestyle that most of us would enjoy Brenda. By the way, I used to drill between 150 and 200 gun barrels a night when I was the 2nd-shift driller. It seems like staggering number, and we were a very small supplier to the industry. I’ll leave the social commentary aside. The job was awful. The conditions were unsafe, I left each night covered in cutting oil and the workers were treated poorly by the owners. Still, there was something special about starting with hunks of steel and producing mechanically “perfect” components. It was the most confusing job I ever had.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Glynis Jolly says:

    Much of the hard back-breaking work has gone by the wayside. My grandfather worked at Gates Rubber Company during the years my father was growing up and on until he reach 65. As an immigrant, he felt lucky and worked 16-hour days six days a week on a machine that Mr. Gates, himself has worked in his younger years. He deserved this holiday.

    Now, with that said though, I’ve never been all that fond of this holiday. More often than not, my birthday falls someplace on this long weekend. I’m kind of like those kids who have their birthday on Christmas. It’s a let-down because of everything else going on.

    Such is life. :P

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      I always feel bad for people with birthdays on holiday weekends. I used to feel bad that my daughter had a summer birthday because other kids got to bring cupcakes to class on their birthday. Then they had one catch-all cupcake day in June for the summer kids. Of course, now they can’t bring cupcakes because they contribute to child obesity (as if they were the cause). I think in many ways, we have diminished the value of labor, as the way people work has changed. Elizabeth mentioned garbage collectors. In our town, this process is automated with the big bins and the trucks that do the lifting. It seems easy, but the quota is up on how fast they have to finish a route that is much longer than it used to be. So, we’ve substituted stress for physical effort. The job still takes a toll on the human being doing the work. Thanks for the comment Glynis and Happy (belated I’m guessing) Birthday!

      Like

  18. Deborah says:

    This is a great post–so glad you gave it another run. As you know, I’m currently living with my parents for a bit, and just last week, we were discussing all the jobs my father had while raising his family. Before becoming a research chemist (after going to school AND working the first 12-14 years of MY life), he worked in a variety of labor-intensive jobs. On a car-line, in a pickle factory (his worst job), and several other places. Working his way to better jobs along the way. I admire him for how hard he worked for his family. As a side-note, he took my siblings (three of them) and me camping in Ontario when my youngest brother was born, so my mother and the baby could recuperate in peace after their rough birth. Obviously, not one to shy away from work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks for the comment Deborah. I went to college to be a chemist and I can’t imagine doing it while working and while raising a family. I barely made it through when it was the only task at hand and I was the only person I was caring for, My father worked two jobs as long as I can remember and he worked at least two jobs after he retired from the Post Office. Our fathers certainly deserved this holiday more than I do. I appreciate their effort, their work ethic and the sense of responsibility they felt toward their families.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. AmyRose🌹 says:

    Wow, Dan, I really never even stopped to “think” about the meaning of Labor Day. What a sensitive post, one that everyone should be reading. Too many of us just take too much for granted, never stopping to THINK about WHY we have what we do today. Thank you so much for this reminder, we each need to carry Gratitude in our Hearts for those who helped build and create what we have today in our lives. <3

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Sorry Dan for reading this late. I was unwell for past 4-5 days. Glad that you repost this. Over here we celebrate this day on May 1, not very enthusiastically. Sadly, in India more attention is given to events that have religious reasons than events where we celebrate human efforts.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Jill's Scene says:

    Hello Dan, I’m glad you reposted this. It’s great. We celebrate Labour Day towards the end of October, down here. I often wonder what our forebears would make of “work” these days. They fought hard for the principle of a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. But I think we’ve forgotten what that is. There’s been a bit of discussion in the media here recently about the increased leisure modern life offers. Sadly, I think that’s a bit of a myth. The very well-off probably have too much leisure. But so many are either under-employed or unemployed, with no real means to enjoy leisure.
    On a lighter note, I had to smile when you mentioned Cindy, I recently discovered her blog. I hope you are enjoying your break.

    Like

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks Jill. When I look back at the very early posts, I see people that I miss today. I try looking them up but most stopped blogging. It was good to find Cindy. My father always emphasized the “fair day’s work” part of that deal but I’m not sure it works today. Lots of people here aren’t treated fairly.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. Paul says:

    Good piece, Dan. Well worth a rerun. It is interesting to think how the nature of work has changed, and often for the better. I’m a desk jockey, too, and pretty grateful that I am when I see the injuries and just day-to-day irritations that are a part of a more physical job, especially one outdoors. Of course, I have to do things to get more standing and activity into my day in order to stay fit, but that’s not a bad “problem” to have. Happy Labor Day!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. reocochran says:

    I am so glad you wrote this in support of physical labor positions. I liked the final part of yhis woth a great supportive reminder. Helping people to think about how without many of the ones who never “tarry” our country would not be “built,” Dan.
    I asked the nurse’s and STNA’s who are working and helping lift, care and make Mom feel special and they admitted they make double pay check for today. My oldest daughter will make time and a half.
    Happy Labor Day!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Aunt Beulah says:

    I’m grateful for every word of this post, which said what needed to be said about labor day and what is meant by labor. Like you, I worked difficult jobs to pay for college, but I was going to college and would be leaving my temporary job while others remained. My mom and dad both talked about getting educated to their children at every opportunity, hoping we wouldn’t be at the mercy of strikes and lay-offs, and industrial accidents as my dad had been. I’m so grateful for all those who worked hard and came home dirty and tired in order to care for their families.

    Like

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