07-21-18 Patricia Sargeant

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Everyone loves a long weekend, or what is this Labor Day thing for anyhow?

Labor Day is one of those holidays that we celebrate without really thinking about what it means. Everyone loves a long weekend! And in the US, it's the end of summer, that last weekend of fun before the kids go back to school and parents return to sanity, at least for a while.

Where I come from, in southern Australia, Labour Day is on a Monday in March. We used it to hold the Aussie Formula One grand prix. In other parts of Australia, it's in October. As fitting for a holiday celebrating the eight-hour working day, everyone gets the day off…

But they don't, do they? Not really. Great if you're a schoolteacher, or work in a bank or a government office. But retail workers must snigger at the idea of a 'public holiday' – when are the stores and supermarkets ever closed? People who run their own businesses – writers, for example – know that the eight-hour working day is a misty-eyed myth. Same with corporate minions who bill clients by the hour. Even a 'lowly' admin worker takes calls after hours and sends emails from home. Do you even know a single person who truly works only eight hours per day?

All these decades later, have we lost sight of what Labour Day is celebrating? Those in charge would like us to go on believing we still enjoy the freedoms won by our forebears, and we're happy to go along with it, so long as we think we're getting rewards in return. Plenty of people celebrate other holidays they don't really believe in. Why not this one?

Which leads me to my obligatory segue into the paranormal. Urban fantasy, including steampunk, is often concerned with class divides. Vampire aristocrats, a seedy fairy subculture, the alpha-beta-gamma dynamics of a werewolf pack. Our heroes and heroines are revolutionaries and troublemakers, or, if they do work for the Man, they usually uncover some conspiracy that threatens to topple the regime. But even the most law-abiding UF protagonists have a cynical streak. The apple's rotten to the core, and we get the idea that they kind of knew it all along—but hey, a girl's gotta eat. They might be toppling the regime in their spare time, but they're also perpetuating it.

It's a bit like Labour Day: we all know we're being conned, right? The eight-hour day is gone, probably forever. We've traded it for more money, globalisation, 24/7 connectivity, and the Good Old Cause of making profits for other people. We may not be groaning through 18-hour shifts down a filthy coal mine, but we're sure as hell not getting 8 hours of work-free recreation before bed.

But we celebrate Labo(u)r Day anyway. Because hey, it's a day off. Might as well enjoy it!

So what's your favourite holiday? Do you like your holidays to mean something significant? Or would you rather go the way of Great Britain, where they just have random 'bank holidays'?


Judith Ashley said...

There was a time in the U.S.A. when our holidays (Memorial Day for one) meant more to me because it was celebrated on May 31st.

Then there was a push for three day weekends and Memorial Day, Martin Luther King Day, oh and we used to celebrate Lincoln and Washington but now it's just President's Day - are all on a Monday.

It will be interesting if the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas get moved. Labo(u)r Day is protected because it is always the 1st Monday in September.

You made some valid points about the myth of the 8 hour work day. I am glad, however, I'm not toiling 18 hours in a filthy coal mine shaft or sweatshop factory.

Some progress has been made.

Erica Hayes said...

It certainly has! At least we're getting something in return these days.

There's been a shift in Australia towards having the holiday on its actual day, instead of the closest convenient Monday or Friday. Some people don't like it. We do love our long weekends :)

D. McCollum D. McCollum said...

My favorite holidays are Christmas and Thanksgiving. As that is the time family comes to visit. I really enjoy decorating for the Christmas holiday.

Sarah Raplee said...

I want my holidays to have history and meaning - no 'Bank holidays' for me!


Erica Hayes said...

Yea, I'm still not sure about the bank holiday. At least in Australia we make up an excuse, like a horse race or something. In GB they just go, sod it, we're having the day off...