For those who were unaware, Monday Sept. 2 served as a well needed holiday for most Americans. Throughout our nation, Labor Day serves as a symbolic end to summer and one last chance at freedom before the weight of academia crashes onto faculty and students alike. Despite the notations on our calendars, campus awoke Monday morning with the same ferocity seen at every daybreak. Students filled classrooms kept cool by miraculous feats from HVAC technologists. Faculty conveyed information seamlessly with the assistance of audio and visual equipment maintained by engineers. Everyone marched through the magnificently pristine grounds that give the College of Charleston its character. Students bask in the glow of our beautiful campus, but rarely come face to face with the individuals who maintain appeal and keep cogs running smoothly. The staff at the College make all of our splendor seem effortless, but their hard work is what keeps this school running. Labor Day is built to honor them, and for many they go unnoticed. Dr. Hollis France, professor with the Political Science Department, and the Faculty and Staff Labor Day Committee put on a program to help the College of Charleston start seeing labor.
After a brief introduction from Dr. France, Professor Jon Hale kicked off the program with a brief lecture regarding the history of Labor Day. Most view Labor Day as the end of sunshine after which one cannot wear white. However, the first Labor Day started as a demonstration of political clout in New York City. It rang out as a statement that organized labor and the American Worker could not be ignored. In 1882, Labor Day was a showing of force by exploited labor, a unified front for the civil rights of all working Americans every where. Today it is most often an excuse to eat hot dogs or buy the patriotic case of Budweiser, or simply forgotten altogether, but the core message rings out from 1882 and resonates with our society today. For laborers all over the nation and especially on campus, Labor Day serves as a reminder of thanks for all of those whose backs produce.
The Labor Day Celebration Program next played host to a panel of laborers from around the college. Workers in Administration sat next to Physical Plant Workers who sat next to professors who sat next to carpenters who sat next to technicians. These bodies were gathered to take questions and establish what it meant to work at the College.
How would you react if given an opportunity to discuss your employment in front of a full audience? Not one unkind word was spoken the entire evening regarding employment at the College. However, a few general themes began to emerge from the dialogue. In an economy as turbulent as ours, everyone was thankful to have a job. Many in our nation today are not so lucky. An intense pride radiated out from every member of the panel regarding the work they do and the service they provide to the College. Program emcee and Political Science Professor Dr. Helen Delfeld pointed out a central point linking all of the panel’s opinions when she said, “I think we are all in agreement we see the great amount of care compassion and concern you all have for your fellow workers, and that none of you is paid too much.”
In there lies the central theme of Labor Day: It is a time for us to recognize the immense strength that together we all share while coming together to improve the living quality for all. As Joe Shelly of the United Steelworkers of America closed out the program with an undeniable core message, “Civil Rights are Labor Rights” rang out from the Alumni Center on Wentworth St. Mr. Shelly encouraged the audience to buy American and portrayed that decision as essential to the betterment of the American economy, an impossible point to argue. Mr. Shelly painted a picture of Labor movements as wrapped up in all civil rights; everyone works. Regardless of gender or racial affiliations Labor will welcome you. Mr. Shelly ended his speech by saying, “I care for daughter through the labor movement. I am an American. I am a Laborer.”
Whether you skipped class in rebellion or schlepped on throughout your typical day, understand Labor Day as a sacrament and much more than just a cause for end of summer blow out sales. It is a time for reflection and honor. A time to bestow love and admiration upon those whom without we could not operate. Labor Day is a day for us all. (Even though on the College of Charleston campus it went officially unobserved.)
Never forget the meaning behind the holiday. Thousands of Americans have spent their lives fighting for higher standards of living for us all, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, disability, faith or lineage. Never forget the Americans to whom the day is dedicated.