September 03, 2007

Come to think of it, "Arbor Day" doesn't make a whole lot of sense, either

Faces of labor, read the header on the feature that took up the left-hand two-thirds of the front page of today's San Francisco Chronicle, over a picture of a 74-year-old railway worker. "On this Labor Day," the copy read, "we take a look at some workers who do their jobs behind the scenes, quietly helping the world go around, as a thank-you to them and to others who play an unsung role in our community." The runover had photos of four more workers: the assistant director of the San Francisco Opera, a recently hired clerk at a local bookstore, an engineer at a local radio station, and a doula from Marin. Probably one or two of them were union members, but the Chron made no mention of that, or of unions at all, and the l of labor in that header was lower-cased, in what turned out to be the word's only appearance in the text other than in the name of the holiday itself.

Nowadays, it seems, the "Labor" of Labor Day has been stripped of any semantic association with the movement that initiated the holiday back in 1882, when the Central Labor Union in New York City proposed a street parade to demonstrate "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations," followed by "a picnic or festival in some grove." The labor movement may be "the folks who brought you the weekend," but we manage to enjoy this one without a word for its sponsor.

Posted by Geoff Nunberg at September 3, 2007 08:21 PM