September 2, 2008
Labor Day Aboard the Staten Island Ferry, and Dreams of an Eight Hour Day
The New York labor movement launched Labor Day in 1882 (later made a federal holiday in 1894) to celebrate the American working classes, both the skilled and the unskilled. The holiday was observed with parades and speeches, and during its first decades, labor organizers used the occasion as a rallying cry for a shorter eight-hour work day. The other hours were to be divided equally for recreation and for rest.
We're increasingly overly determining the day after Labor Day as The Day When All the Fun Ends. September has traditionally meant a time when students went back to school, many workers returned to their jobs after summer vacation (or at least with more serious purpose), and the idle rich returned to the city, but it seems now that we're falling under some ancient Puritan curse of endless toil. If we don't work as hard as possible, then we'll be left behind. If we're not industrious and competitive the road leads to personal torment and collective failure. Even when our "work" is in the arts and entertainment industries, as is the case for so many New Yorkers like myself, the pressure mounts after Labor Day to deliver the goods to the "stakeholders," whoever they are, or to advance in some way one's career.
It's ironic that so many workers in the advanced Information Age wish they had an eight hour work day.
Just getting off the island for a little bit yesterday seemed a good way to celebrate Labor Day, to enjoy the plentiful sunshine and refreshing harbor breezes and to prepare for a return to work. Taking in the views of the Statue of Liberty, dedicated fours years after the first New York Labor Day, also seemed appropriate. In the spirit of the founders of Labor Day, my new goal, I decided, was to not criticize myself for being behind in work (and who doesn't do this?), but to realize that there's just so much one can do in an eight hour day.
Images of the New York Harbor and the Staten Island Ferry by Walking Off the Big Apple. September 1, 2008. The Staten Island Ferry is still totally free.