Reverie at Bennys Place

An Eight Hour Day is Long Enough.

Labor_Day_Parade

Echoes

Part I

Reluctantly I wake jolted from a sleep less than content with panic that I had overslept. Dark and dusty, the old clock reveals the time with a subtlety of thunder. 5:30 almost exactly. Rising from bed is an arduous process that requires all but a tenth of the energy that will soon be required to get through another day of work. I’ve been working at the mill now for gone 30 years and it never seems to get any easier but yet I rise, I travel and I work.

Some folks say a change is coming and I only pray I am around long enough to witness it. It seems unlikely but there is always hope. Better hours, better pay, a better life and who would not want that? Until that day, I work because I have a wife, kids and well, at least I have a job.

I hear the boss man and those that run the company make a pretty penny. It would be nice if they shared some of that or extended some gesture that demonstrated they appreciate their workers.

Part II

The radio station lost its tuning so I awoke suddenly from a tumultuous sleep to the sound of loud static. “I should just use the beeper.” I thought to myself grumpily and the typical internal conversation began once again. “I do not want to go to work. You have to go to work. Do I have to? Yes, you have used up all your sick time. I can afford a day unpaid. No, actually you cannot. Shit. I have to go to work.”

It is not the job itself that is unbearable but the hours, the pay and though I hear others talk about that ideal work/life balance, I would not have a clue what that is. If I am not working at the office, I am working at home and if not working at home I am thinking about work the next day. Those that run my company earn ludicrous amounts of money and will not use a penny of that to hire more people to take away some of the burden. Just once, I would love to find a company that demonstrated some sort of appreciation toward their workers.

Submission and Acceptance

Work — It is what defines us if you think about it. We labor and toil for someone else to earn a wage to forge a life. We long to return to a place where life was simpler or should I say perceived as simpler. So long as there is any sort of chance of exploitation, exploited we shall be whether we admit it or not. The system is firmly in place now and there is not much we can do about it. Without exception, we all yearn and strive for a good life, a better life, an ideal sort of life. When it comes to how we earn our daily bread, the expectations are the same regardless of who you are or where you live. We, all of us on all four corners of this earth expect to be valued, appreciated, treated fairly, the concept of honest work for honest pay to continue to hold true and to be provided with safe working conditions. These expectations are all very basic and not at all unrealistic or outrageous.

Beginning with an Ideal

Eight girls sewing by hand, looking at the camera during a sweatshop inspection DN-0001247, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum

Eight girls sewing by hand, looking at the camera during a sweatshop inspection
DN-0001247, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum

Today we celebrate the workers, their labor, their contributions, their sweat, their blood, their lives dedicated to the notion that as humans we can go out, find a good job, be treated fairly and be given opportunities to better our lives. Today, we also address our concerns and our grievances in the hope that as we do so, we may make things better for ourselves and generations to come. We have inherited gifts which cannot afford to be ignored and like anything, if we do not pay careful attention, we stand to lose so much that so many have fought so hard to attain.

Though prone to corruption, greed and autocracy, we can give thanks to Knights of Labor for fighting for certain ideals that helped pave a path toward equal pay, maximum hours, minimum pay, end to child labor, better work conditions and an overall caring and nurturing of the American worker. Despite some of the more atrocious allegations against this group, it does seem they started off on the right track as can be seen in their preamble:

The alarming development and aggressiveness of great capitalists and corporations, unless checked, will inevitably lead to the pauperization and hopeless degradation of the toiling masses.

It is imperative, if we desire to enjoy the full blessings of life, that a check be placed upon unjust accumulation, and the power for evil of aggregated wealth.

This much-desired object can be accomplished only by the united efforts of those who obey the divine injunction, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.”

Therefore we have formed the Order of Knights of Labor, for the purpose of organizing and directing the power of the industrial masses, not as a political party, for it is more – in it are crystallized sentiments and measures for the benefit of the whole people, but it should be borne in mind, when exercising the right of suffrage, that most of the objects herein set forth can only be obtained through legislation, and that it is the duty of all to assist in nominating and supporting with their votes only such candidates as will pledge their support to those measures, regardless of party. But no one shall, however, be compelled to vote with the majority, and calling upon all who believe in securing “the greatest good to the greatest number,” to join and assist us, we declare to the world that are our aims are: (this is followed by their aims)

Great words that hold the same value and significance still today. It is because of those initial ideals we finally had put in place most of what they were striving for in the form of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

From the Department of Labor website:

In its final form, the act applied to industries whose combined employment represented only about one-fifth of the labor force. In these industries, it banned oppressive child labor and set the minimum hourly wage at 25 cents, and the maximum workweek at 44 hours.

Sweatshop poster, Sacred Motherhood, by Luther Bradley DN-0004658, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum

Sweatshop poster, Sacred Motherhood, by Luther Bradley
DN-0004658, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum

Though the bill was weakened through all the processes of trying to get it passed, the end result is something that deserves reflection. We should be enjoying today the laws first set out by this bill and in an ideal world should be more encompassing as we become more enlightened, nurturing, caring, sharing, kind, considerate and thoughtful human beings. While in practice, we are still protected by labor laws, the lines are fading fast and we are in danger of regression. Though an overly used cliché the fact does remain that those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it. Many who came before us worked tirelessly and relentlessly to change the relationships between company / industry / corporation and the worker for the better by providing better hours, better pay and better work environments and finally marking the end of child labor. Who among us today would be willing to do the same?

I leave you with a quote from an interview where a mill worker reflects upon his fifty years at the Plume and Atwood Mill given around the time of the passing of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

“I believe the lads should have a little easier work than what I had, “says Mr. White. “I’ve worked hard in my time, and maybe it hasn’t hurt me any, but if the boys can get along without breakin’ their backs, why, so much the better, I figure.”

“I’ve worked in the mill in my day, until nine o’clock at night, from seven in the mornin’, with an hour off for lunch. That’s too much, I don’t think you’ll ever see the like of that again, though. And a good thing, too. I wouldn’t want to go back to it, and I don’t think anyone else would. An eight hour day is long enough.”

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