Labor Day

Today is a national holiday in the US originally designed to honor working people in the newly developed factories. Working conditions were dirty and dangerous. Pay was low. Hours long.

There were two transitions happening. Increasing mechanization in agriculture reduced job opportunities on farms. Factories designed to produce more products were rapidly displacing craftsmen. Men took their families to cities where they could find factory work.

I went to graduate school intending to study political philosophy. I was intrigued by an early essay of Karl Marx where he discussed this transition from craftsman to factory worker. The craftsman put a little bit of soul into the things he (sometimes she back in the 1800s) made. A factory worker just performed one little task not being responsible for building the entire product. Marx called this alienation. Humans were alienated from the fruits of their labor.

They closed the department during my first semester at grad school. They let us stay out the year, but my incentive for degrees was shot. I got one of those factory jobs.

We’ve broadened the definition of labor for these labor day celebrations. But much like almost all of our national holidays, the original meaning is almost lost while we just celebrate a day off.

But this alienation from work idea lingers in different guises. Surveys today reveal that people want to work where the output is meaningful, that their contribution is important, that they benefit society in some way. Put a little bit of soul into your work. Or, go out to work on your own.

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