Sunday, September 4, 2016

Labor And The Celebration Of The American Dream

Labor Day comes Monday, but I figured addressing the theme today would make sense as most of us will be enjoying the day with family and away from the Internet. My most memorable Labor Days occurred in the '50s and '60s when I attended the big day-long picnic sponsored by the paper mill that employed my home town. Three to four thousand people attended those picnics at Burlington, West Virginia, and enjoyed carnival rides, swimming, softball, races, airplane rides, and a playground filled with wonderfully dangerous equipment that could never be built today. It all ended with a movie under the stars at the drive-in theater next door.

Old Tybee Ranger was three when this picture was taken at Burlington, West Virginia

Although many of the kids I played with those days ended up working at the mill, I imagine a number of them went on to college and enjoyed the greater opportunities it afforded. In the long run they made the right decision. Today, the mill employs only a shadow of its former workforce, perhaps fewer than a quarter when compared to its post World War II heyday. The picnic. if it occurs at all these days , must be a shadow of the earlier event. The union wages may still be good, but the jobs are few, the future of the American paper industry remains in question, and the quality of life still wants in a region now entering its sixth decade of stagnation or decline. 

Although it's been forty years since I skipped rocks in Patterson Creek and spent my last weekends at the Burlington campground I feel a strong affinity for the place and for the people who live there. My family's experience began there in the early nineteenth century. Today that family consists of my cousins and Facebook friends who elected to remain in those magnificent ridges and valleys in the shadow of the Allegheny Front. 

In my life, I've always made a point to family, friends, and colleagues that all work is honorable. Every employee, from minimum wage to executive salary, contributes to achieving organizational success and profit in the American dream. To those in the valleys of Georges Creek, New Creek, Patterson Creek and the Potomac River I wish a happy Labor Day. The notable labor history of these valleys in the last century helped bring the nation through two world wars and into the limelight as the greatest economic engine on the planet. Although we may be left only with the memories of the holiday at Burlington and elsewhere we cannot forget the labor that made the celebration possible and the ambitions and achievements of those who choose to call the region "home."  

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