Editorials

A Labor Day salute to some work that mattered this year

Department of Water Resources workers check on the flow of the Oroville Dam’s main spillway on in March 2017 three-week shutdown.
Department of Water Resources workers check on the flow of the Oroville Dam’s main spillway on in March 2017 three-week shutdown. hamezcua@sacbee.com

Although the blare of Labor Day sale television commercials might suggest otherwise, this holiday isn’t just about stocking up on items or getting a really good deal on a 2017 vehicle. Who could blame you for leaping at the chance to do either, though?

Labor Day honors the American worker, and right now, most American workers could use some comfort.

American jobs are being disrupted by automation, or farmed out to other nations or changed in ways that require constant re-education. Wages are stagnant. CEO pay is soaring. Unions and workplace protections are under constant attack and despite a generation of equal opportunity laws, the best jobs still seem to go to all the same people.

It is a privilege, to be able to make a contribution.

This White House has so far done little to fulfill its vow to restore the U.S. working class to “greatness.” And as our climate deteriorates, it’s unclear what kind of economy will remain for our children.

Yet there are consolations, especially in California. Unemployment here is less than 5 percent, and some real gains have been made, from pay equity laws to rising minimum wages. There are jobs, many of them green, where only a decade ago, pink slips littered the landscape.

The American Dream has always required grit. If work weren’t work, we’d call it “vacation.” And the worth of our effort is not always reflected in data and Dow Jones headlines.

Here in Northern California, for example, we can raise a Labor Day toast to the workers who shored up the Oroville Dam this year when the water level was about the length of a decent trout away from overflowing. We can salute the farm workers harvesting this year’s wine grapes and tomatoes. We can polish some apples for the teachers welcoming California children back to school.

We can thank those who keep the air conditioning on and the public pools staffed as California bakes in yet another record-hot summer. We can be grateful for the firefighters who’ve spent this long weekend on the front lines of wildfires, and the scientists and researchers who, in some cases, risked livelihoods this year to save and protect government climate data.

We can notice the state and local employees whose unglamorous work underpins so much of the economy in this capital city. We can give to the nonprofits that would not exist were it not for the toil of low paid staff and unpaid volunteers.

And we can savor what Americans take for granted: This bounty, this leisure.

Fire up that barbie. Scoop the dead leaves from the pool, if you have one. Turn up the music. Slap together some burgers. Ask if anyone wants cheese. Put chips in the bowl and pie – mmm, pie – on the platters. Don’t forget the onion dip.

In this anxious and intensely negative moment, Labor Day provides three days and change to relish, not just our paychecks and what we can buy with them, but also what our governor likes to call “psychic” wealth. It is a privilege, to be able to make a contribution. That, too, is a comfort, isn’t it?

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