LLOYD GRAY: Labor Day’s value isn’t in working

By Lloyd Gray/NEMS Daily Journal

In the lineup of American holidays, Labor Day is the one most in search of an identity. Given its origins in late 19th century unionism, it’s no wonder Labor Day has never been observed much in the historically anti-union South.
Not that we won’t take the day off from work. Any excuse will do for that. And a three-day weekend is always nice.
But that’s what it is – a time to be off work, to take a quick trip somewhere or just to relax at home. When was the last time you attended any Labor Day-related event that actually celebrated labor, organized or otherwise?
Granted, most of us treat Memorial Day or the Fourth of July as more for respite than for reflection on the meaning of the day, or participation in some kind of enobling activity. But at least we know that one is to honor war dead and the other to celebrate our national origins and foundational principles.
Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year’s – the biggies – obviously require no explanation.
What we’re supposed to focus on with Labor Day, by contrast, has always been fuzzy to most folks. Is it the idea of work? The fact that we have jobs? The nobility of the working man and woman?
Since we’ve never really been sure, Labor Day has served more as a gateway, or a gate-closer, than anything else. It used to be the last gasp of summer, the weekend before school started. But that was before school air conditioning and early August classes.
At one time it was considered the start of the political season, the time when candidates in congressional and presidential elections would launch their general election campaigns. But that was before electioneering became non-stop and one campaign blurred into the next.
As a front-page feature in this newspaper noted yesterday, the fashion police have traditionally enforced Labor Day as the cutoff for anything white to be worn, but even that is no longer agreed upon by everyone in the know.
At the Daily Journal we scratch our heads every year trying to figure out how to mark Labor Day in the newspaper. Usually we come up with something related to the job market or the economy in general or just how things are going at work for people these days. This Labor Day weekend the topic is Toyota (see today’s front page) and how the jobs now in place and those to come are likely to make for more jobs elsewhere.
Yet one thing you won’t get from us – unlike Memorial Day or the Fourth of July – is scolding or lamenting how the holiday has come to mean nothing more than a day off work or a three-day weekend.
Regarding this holiday that celebrates work primarily from the perspective of its freedom-from-work benefits may at first seem contradictory. But all that hard work – while honorable and worthy of praise – calls for a little time to enjoy its fruits.
So let’s think of Labor Day as the guilt-free holiday – a little loafing with no higher purpose.
Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com.