This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, September 4, 2002

September 4, 2002 - Labor Day

I was saddened to read that Denver canceled its Labor Day parade this year. According to various spokesmen, there just wasn't enough interest.

The Post ran a picture of the heyday of Labor Day parades. Not so long ago, those parades filled the streets, side to side, and as far back as the camera could reach.

The first Labor Day parade took place in New York City, in 1882. In 1887, Oregon become the first state to make Labor Day a legal holiday. In 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed a bill to make it nation-wide.

Today, Labor Day reaches far beyond the United States; Puerto Rico and Canada celebrate it on the same day we do. In Australia, it's known as "Eight Hour Day," for the achievement (after great struggle) of shorter working hours. In Europe, Labor Day is observed on May 1.

In my mind, the day and the parade are linked with the post-war economic boom I grew up in.

Most of the men in my neighborhood were blue collar union workers. Here's what I remember: they had good if modest homes they could afford, a new car every five years or so, and employment that lasted for a solid twenty years with a single company. In their later, retired years, they had what now seem astonishing health benefits.

"It" -- meaning the system of collective bargaining -- worked, and worked well.

Over the past decade, however, union membership, particularly as a percentage of the work force, has fallen. There are several reasons. One is the historical connection between the labor movement and socialism. Following World War II, socialism and communism were the targets of paranoid McCarthyites. Later came the Cold War.

And the United States changed. The conditions of office workers simply weren't as fraught with obvious peril as those of workers in coal, iron, and steel.

In today's world, the followers of Marx suffer a different stigma: that of irrelevance, of demonstrable national failure (excepting, of course, the intriguing history of the Scandinavian countries).

But despite the politics of labor and the evolution of economies, a few things remain.

First, human labor, when performed with persistence and intelligence, has fundamental dignity. That labor may involve backbreaking agricultural work. It may involve the repetitive motions of industrial work. It may consist of office or library work.

It might even involve management. You don't think looking after the well-being and productivity of other people ISN'T work? Sure, there is also the occasional joy of seeing people grow and proper. Let's put it this way: have you ever been a parent?

Second, work deserves to be recognized, rewarded and valued. Most Americans still have jobs; too many people have lost them. Work is good, often essential to self-respect. It is certainly essential to the plain necessities of living. People still deserve livable wages.

Third, we all need a day off. It may seem contrary to reward labor with leisure. But this is my belief: productive labor is one of the key meanings of life. One of its chief rewards is ... idleness.

Sometimes, there is great satisfaction to be found simply in contemplating the works of humanity: our monuments, our institutions of learning, our factories, our recreational sites, our homes.

Sometimes, there is even greater satisfaction just to sit back and watch the mountains and trees, to listen to the wind and the waters, to truly appreciate all the beauty that our labor has purchased us the time and the insight to enjoy.

To all the workers of Douglas County, the library offers its thanks, its respect, and its sincere best wishes. There should be a parade.

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