Posts Tagged ‘labor day’


Before the rise of unions and child labor laws, it was common to see scenes like the one above showing a young girl working with dangerous textile machines in Lowell, Massachusetts.

The pendulum has swung too far away from workers. Just my view. There was a time that unions had built up power to the point of abuse. That’s not where we are now. We have all benefited from people banding together to fight deadly working conditions, end child labor, and negotiate a living wage.

Ideally, it would be corporate leaders themselves who recognized that everyone is better off when employees have a decent life. How likely are we to see such leaders today? Too many parents work two or three jobs while their children still don’t eat well without the free lunch at school. CEOs’ attitude: Not my problem.

But wait! There’s news.

Ben & Jerry’s leaders may be outliers. Of course, it took worker activism, but a good-faith effort led to positive results for all.

As John Dillon reports at Vermont Public Radio, “Some Vermont dairy workers say their wages and living conditions have improved, thanks to an agreement reached last year between the workers and Ben & Jerry’s, a division of global consumer products company Unilever.

“Times are tough on dairy farms around the country, with milk prices declining for the fourth year in a row. But 72 farms that supply Ben & Jerry’s earn a little more by agreeing to follow labor and housing standards.

“Enrique Balcazar is a former dairy farm worker and an activist with the group Migrant Justice who helped negotiate an agreement last year called Milk with Dignity. …

” ‘There are farmworkers in the state who, in collaboration with their farmers and with support from the Milk With Dignity Standards Council, are now receiving a day off every week when they previously didn’t have one, who are receiving wages to bring their wages up to the Vermont minimum wage,’ he says. …

“Farms enrolled in the Milk with Dignity program also commit to providing five annual paid sick days, five paid vacation days and to meet housing health and safety standards.

“Farmers get a premium for following these standards, but it’s not clear how much. …

” ‘Ben & Jerry’s is paying the premium because we recognize a lot of farmers will need some of the financial support to improve housing conditions or to make up for the vacation days that they’re going to provide workers,’ [Cheryl Pinto, manager of values-led sourcing at Ben & Jerry’s,] says. …

“The Milk with Dignity program covers all farmworkers whose farms are enrolled — and not just undocumented workers who work on many of Vermont’s dairy farms. … Migrant Justice says the program is a model for other dairy processors.”

How about you consider Ben & Jerry’s if you are buying ice cream or frozen yogurt for your Labor Day party? Cherries Garcia, Moo-phoria, anyone?

More at Vermont Public Radio, here.

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I Hear America Singing

By Walt Whitman

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.


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Do you remember seeing a René Magritte painting called “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”? It took me a while to get what he meant. It was a picture of a pipe, after all. Why would he call it “This is not a pipe.”

(Oh, right. It’s not a real pipe. You can’t fill it with tobacco. You can’t smoke it.)

In the same spirit, I am posting pictures of not-summer.

On a warm July day, I took my photos of blue skies, beach paths, and small boats, and the next thing I knew we were having a Labor Day clambake. Within two days, summer was over, and a curtain of cold, windy rain descended. Along with the September mindset, my husband says.

Ceci ne’est pas l’été. Au revoir.

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Back before “labor” became a dirty word in the minds of some politicians, “workingmen” were more appreciated.

A corporation might even honor workers in the architecture of a headquarters. (Note the photo taken in Boston’s financial district.)

These days, looking around the subway at the tired bodies heading home at night, I’ve begun to think of almost everyone as the workingman. All but a few folks who are very well off. There is hardly anyone in the middle anymore.

The people slogging back and forth, doing whatever they have to do, are unconscious of a kind of heroic aura that envelops them collectively. You can see it if you look.

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