Tag Archives: Labor Day

Caramel-colored Children and Labor Day

Caramel-colored Children and Labor Day    —by Jinny Batterson

In a conversation with a good friend whose tendency to wax cynical has been reinforced by some of our recent political and media trends, I heard her lament: “Maybe we’ll finally stop dissing or shooting each other when all of us are caramel-colored.”

I admit to a good bit of prejudice not supported by reality, so I did a little research on interethnic marriages and relationships, which have become increasingly common in the U.S. over the past several generations. Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing interracial marriage (in the 1967 case Loving vs. Virginia), the proportion of reported interracial/interethnic marriages in the U.S. has risen dramatically. As of 2017, over one in six new marriages in the U.S. were registered between spouses of different “racial” backgrounds, while about 10% of all married couples were “mixed race.” Statistical evidence for non-marriage relationships is harder to come by, though my anecdotal experiences tell me that these are also becoming more diverse.

The 2000 census marked the first time that Americans were given an option to choose multiple racial identities, not just one. By the 2010 census, people who reported multiple races had risen substantially: 9 million census respondents chose to check two or more racial groups, a 32 percent increase from 2000. (Those who reported a single race rose by 9.2 percent over the same interval.)

My extended family has at least one multi-ethnic marriage and two young adults who could choose to check more than one “race” on a census form. I’ve not delved very far into how my nephews choose to identify themselves and how this has impacted their lives; my hope is that any prejudices against them are waning as “mixed race” children become more and more common.

Intellectually I know that the whole notion of “race” is more cultural than biological. Differences in skin pigmentation bear little relationship to variations in DNA and to other supposedly ingrained characteristics. Still, like many, I’ve been socialized to view a person’s skin color as somehow indicative of their other characteristics. Not until I’d lived next to an elegant “black” neighbor for a decade did she explain to me that she did not much like to dance and had little sense of rhythm. 

Labor Day is a day set aside to honor the contributions of laborers to the overall good of American society. Those of us who are “white” (and generally privileged to do most of our labor with heads rather than hands or backs) are beginning, reluctantly, awkwardly, to enter into conversations about the labor of “non-whites” forced or coerced into doing much of the work of building this country and society. Too often we continue to dishonor their and our heritage through sentimentalizing versions of U.S. history and society that leave out or minimize the injustices and cruelty that helped and help “make America great.” 

There is much work still to be done. Let’s remember, this Labor Day, to keep laboring toward a more equitable America where all labor is valued, whatever the skin color of the laborer.

The Labor of Voting

The Labor of Voting —by Jinny Batterson 

During the past several months, my small townhouse complex mobilized like never before. In our previously sleepy suburban neighborhood, people circulated petitions, attended multiple zoning hearings, even overcame fears of public speaking to testify on our own behalf. We want to preserve as much as possible of the leafy canopy that has surrounded us since our 100 or so garden-style condominiums were built over the course of a five year period in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

We had an impact. Though the recommendation of the town’s zoning board is not final, we persuaded a slim majority that a new development adjacent to our condo community, as currently proposed, does not adequately preserve the balance of natural and built environments that is part of our town’s appeal. Further revisions are needed.

Next month, our town and nearby jurisdictions will hold municipal elections. Turnout for municipal and local elections nationwide is usually very low—only 10 to 20 percent of registered voters make the effort to show up—a much lower proportion that the over 75% of homeowners who signed our rezoning petition (though a little greater than the 7% of owners who actually spoke at the zoning hearing…)

National politics has gotten so polarized and nasty lately that many of us have been tempted to give up on voting. Why even bother to register and vote, especially in local elections? What difference will it make? Actually, local elections may be the most important of all, for lots of reasons:

1) Town councils/county governments have the final say on zoning, property taxes, local budgets

2) Politicians DO pay attention to where their election margins come from

3) Local elections are typically among the only remaining non-partisan elections (no party labels on the ballot)

4) A vote has even more impact when “less diluted” by other voters (but don’t let that deter you from encouraging others to vote)

5) If the person you support wins a council seat and later runs for higher office, you may have additional clout as one of his/her early supporters

Because of expected low turnout, some localities provide less publicity and fewer convenient options for voting in local elections—not as many hours or sites for voting early, stricter rules and not as much notice about voting absentee.

My read of our national history is that we have had a see-saw record when it pertains to the voting franchise. As an American woman, I gained the right to vote through efforts of generations of suffragists who came before me. I’m dismayed at what I perceive as current efforts to disenfranchise the most vulnerable members of our society—minorities, the young, the frail elderly, the disabled, the poor, the homeless. 

At least in my state, voting in political elections is not as convenient as registering a “like” to an online post, or signing an online petition. It takes some planning, time, and effort to request and return an absentee ballot, or to find your polling place, show up at an appropriate time, and cast your ballot. Compared to the instantaneous nature of some other parts of our lives, voting can be labor intensive. 

Still, voting is among the most precious labor rights we have, whether in a labor organizing effort, a presidential election, or a local one. So, this Labor Day, once you’ve cleaned the grease off the grill and put the remaining sweet tea in the refrigerator, please consider the importance of the labor of voting in this year’s elections. If you haven’t already, please go register to vote. Once the election process starts, please vote!   

Labor Day Thoughts

Labor Day Thoughts    —by Jinny Batterson

Labor Day is a holiday first established in the U.S. during the second half of 19th century to honor the contributions to American prosperity of laborers of all kinds.  During much of the 20th century, the holiday came to be associated with organized labor—labor unions. One of my aunts was for a number of years a member of the typesetters’ union, though her membership tended to get downplayed during family political discussions of the glories of the free enterprise system. My aunt has long since died, and the International Typographical Union to which she once belonged dissolved in 1986—its remaining members consolidated into either the Teamsters’ Union or the Communications Workers of America.

In the 21st century, labor unions have struggled. Since their peak of proportional membership in 1954, when over a third of the America’s wage and salaried workers belonged to labor unions, the influence and scope of U.S. unions has declined.  Now less than 7% of private sector workers are unionized. A fair number of remaining unions seem destined to go the way of the ITU that helped furnish my aunt with good wages, benefits, and working conditions during her working life. No one factor seems to have precipitated union decline—automation, globalization, the rise of the information economy, institutional inertia, political maneuvering, scandals and corruption among some union leadership—all have likely played a part.

As a woman who has spent time both in and out of the paid workforce, I tend to view labor more broadly than as an activity performed just for wages or salary.  One of the stalwart hymns of my somewhat stalwart Protestant upbringing was a call to labor:

“Come, labor on!
Who dares stand idle, on the harvest plain
While all around him waves the golden grain?
And to each servant does the Master say,
Go work today.”

Few of us any more are harvesters of grain. Fewer still are the missionaries that were probably in the mind of 19th century lyricist Jane Laurie Northwick.  A more contemporary, somewhat more secular rendering of the same theme is Marge Piercy’s “To Be of Use,” which states in part:

“I love people who harness themselves, …
who strain in the muck and the mud to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again…

The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.”

Meaningful work well done provides much more than wages.  It seems to me that for too long now we have confused work with “jobs.”  Work and jobs are not the same. Not all jobs are worth doing.  More than enough worthwhile work exists to go around, but  we’ve too often lost some important connections between work and value(s).  We’ve badly damaged our natural environment while creating more stuff than many of us need. We’ve relied unduly on “market forces” to distribute goods and services, so that some still lack for basics while others strain to find either storage space for their excess goods or time to indulge in any more services. We engage in costly wars that nearly always end in stalemate and in the need for extensive resettlement, restoration, and rebuilding. We have more gadgets than ever before, but fewer and fewer meaningful interactions with other people. When was the last time you were able to reach an actual person in “customer service” on your first try?

So I think on this Labor Day we might pause to consider how to redirect our labors just a bit.  How to make whatever employment we have more rewarding for its own sake. How to think as if there are no boxes.  We might find that more of us can exit the treadmill of excessive consumption. We might turn down the volume once in a while. We might be able to take steps toward reducing income disparities, resource misuse, both physical and mental sweatshops. All the bad trends we’ve engaged in are reversible. Reversing them will just take a heck of a lot of work…