Commonplace (Labor Day)

“One of the ironies of our day—not ironies—one of the obscenities of our day is the fact that we have something I call a ‘national Alzheimer’s disease’: There is no yesterday. I [was] talking… to people waiting for the bus, and there was this couple waiting with me one day. Yuppies. He’s in Brooks Brothers clothes. Got the Wall Street Journal in his hand. She’s in Neiman Marcus or Bloomingdale’s and has Vanity Fair. I say, ‘Labor Day is coming up.’ He looks at me the way Noel Coward would look at a flyspeck. ‘We used to march down State Street,’ I say. ‘Waving flags. Solidarity forever. We shall not be moved. UAW. CIO.’ He looks at me and says, ‘We despise unions.’

I ask him, ‘How many hours a day do you work?’ It’s a non sequitur, but he says, ‘Eight.’ I say, ‘You know why you don’t work 18 hours a day? Because four guys in Chicago [died] back in 1886. It’s called the Haymarket Affair. They were hanged for you, for the eight-hour day.’

The bus is late, and she’s tremulous, like Fay Wray in King Kong. I ask her how many hours a week she works, and she says, ‘40.’ And I say, ‘You don’t work 80 because, back in the ’30s, men and women got their heads busted for you.’
Now, I’m not going to blame them. How do they know about labor? Every paper’s got a feature section. Business. Sports. Entertainment. Is there a labor section? Of course not. Labor page? Of course not. So is it their fault? Of course not. There’s no knowledge.”

—Studs Terkel, in interview (2000)

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Athens, GA. His work has been published in RogerEbert.com, Bookslut, The Comics Journal, Salon, The Baseball Chronicle, Jackson Free Press, and Valley Voices: A Literary Review. Follow him on Twitter (@walter_biggins), and check out his bimonthly newsletter (https://tinyletter.com/Walter_Biggins).
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