We all know that Labor Day is a holiday but do we all know why we are celebrating it? Officially, Labor Day is a federal holiday in the United States celebrated on the first Monday in September. Its intent? To honor and recognize the American labor movement and the works and contributions of laborers to the development and achievements of the United States.
Researchers estimate that from April to December 2020, half the working hours in the American economy were supplied from home, usually at the government’s insistence. This means that most of the other half of the working hours were put in by the essential workers who have glued this country together since the pandemic began.
Think about it. The labor came from the countless men and women who serve to protect us and our property, for example, the police, fire department, EMTs and the military, all of whom are always on call. Other laborers worked in hospitals not only to diagnose and nurse the sick but also to run the food services and laundries and do 100% of the cleaning. And then there were those who, outside the hospital, were the heroes responsible for dealing with the pandemic’s horrors—the 600,000+ people (and counting) in this country who died and needed proper remembrance and burial.
Labor was also supplied by the individuals who keep the country moving, that is, the people who staff the thousands of transportation services that get us from one place to another and those who maintained the infrastructure—the roadways and highways, stop lights and stop signs, bridges and aqueducts. And what about the Internet and wi-fi? Do we ever stop to consider exactly how email or streaming video gets into our phones and tablets so quickly, seamlessly, and in real time? How does the “grid” work and who was maintaining it? Think, too, about the people who worked in pharmacies and drug stores and those who kept the grocery stores stocked and open. Think of those who picked up our trash and delivered our mail and packages.
The pandemic also helped us to see what it means to be interdependent or mutually reliant on each other. While too much went wrong in the last 18 months, millions of us rose to the occasion, meeting America’s experimental expectations of the identity we term the autonomous subject. This means we take responsibility for our life-long journey of participation in the American experiment in self-government.
How does this concerted effort work given our widely disparate cultural preferences? This identity subjects our self-absorbed sense of self to a performative value system that habituates our nature to unfold as one of us. Interdependent and cooperative, now we can more objectively redescribe our relatedness, that is, our connection to one another.
The efficacy of this identity is greatly enhanced by knowing, in general, what we have socio-culturally evolved to be, what all of us are and, in particular, who we are. Think of it this way: We take the evaluative measure of ourselves in action against the background of what all of us are. During the crisis few of us were probably thinking about this particular performative. But we didn’t need to. Why? Because, as I said in the preceding paragraphs, we’ve been groomed all our lives to increase our effort in response to a challenging situation.
On Labor Day and in the light of this pandemic, it is important to recognize our interdependency and to respect, dignify, and express our gratitude to all of us who labor. Indeed, I honor Martin Luther King’s, "All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity."