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Working to celebrate labor

Parades will be fewer this year than on previous Labor Days. Picnics and backyard gatherings will be limited to family and only the closest of friends. There will be no music on the pier or community celebrations; COVID has changed the way we live our lives today and how we will live them in the immediate future. But our country is strong, and we will recover. Americans are not known for backing down or accepting defeat. We will rebuild, and we will come back stronger.

I am reminded of stories told by my parents and grandparents of the days following the great depression. A time when jobs were few, food was scarce, and storefronts were boarded up. This was a time when our country was on the precipice of possible and total collapse. We could either slide backward into succumbed defeat or move forward. The American people were not then, and are not now, quitters. They forged ahead.

Moving forward was not easy, but determination and grit persevered. Nearly a decade later, however, just as things were looking up, the country entered World War II. Again, the men and women were called upon to make personal sacrifices and to work together. We hear of Rosie the Riveter who worked manual labor jobs to support the troops during World War II. Men and women pulled together to continue rebuilding and keeping America safe and strong.

These men and women carried on the legacy of the early leaders of the American Revolution and those of the late 1800s who fought for legislation spearheading the eventual federal holiday commemorating labor in 1894. Workers were finally recognized for their contributions as a result of nearly eight years of protests by tens of thousands of American laborers. However, to everything there is a season, and the wheels of change turn slowly. Everything was not perfect then, just as not everything is perfect today.

A report prepared by Jack Lillich of Purdue University states in part, “As we celebrate Labor Day, it is a good time to consider how labor and labor unions have changed and need to change.”

Change is needed from all corners of the room, and on every front. The organized labor movement that began in the 1800s was due mainly to the industrial revolution requiring factory and manufacturing jobs for skilled and unskilled workers.

Times are different today; jobs and demographics have changed. There are fewer manufacturing jobs available, and individual workers rely on government, construction, service industry and highly skilled technical jobs.

Today there are laws in place to protect workers making working conditions and wages safe and fair. These laws, however, are a result of the self-sacrifice and determination of those early pioneers of the labor movement.

We have individuals out of work today. Partly due to the pandemic, but also because of the loss of manufacturing jobs; it is no longer a “Leave it to Beaver” world. Just as our country has evolved since the industrial revolution, we must find ways to meet the needs of today.

Our economy has been transformed. We face challenges in today’s labor market. Widgets ain’t what they used to be! Today we are seeing the digital technology in every aspect of our lives.

Different technologies such as genomics, robotics, are here, and improved replicas of the Silicon Valley are popping up in new and exciting ways. Digital technology has changed the way we conduct business and the way in which we work … many of our “laborers” today often wear their pajamas and work from their home office or basement sitting in front of a computer screen.

Whether repairing a water main break, resurfacing a road, picking up trash, directing traffic, putting out a fire, teaching a class of second-graders, or developing a cure for cancer, labor and laborers are needed.

Sophocles was believed to have said, “Without labor nothing prospers.” I agree with that sentiment.

To all of those workers who continue to keep us safe, fire fighters and police officers, construction workers who build our roads and bridges, those who maintain our infrastructure, factory workers, individuals who work in our food processing plants, health care professionals, teachers, and those in service industries, farmers, managers, administrators, and all others, I thank you.

From our house to yours, be safe, and enjoy this last “official” holiday of the summer; Sam says “woof.”

Have a great day.

Vicki Westling is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com

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