I quit working after the first day of the first job that promised a regular paycheck. At the tender age of 17, I was hired as a mechanic’s floor assistant at the local Ford dealership in my hometown. What the job actually turned out to be, was to be the clean-up boy in the garage. It was dirty, greasy, and physically hard.
I could have probably weathered out those conditions if it wasn’t for the fact that the mechanics were hell-bent on treating me badly. I felt so unaccepted that I told the supervisor I would not return the next day nor any other day. The company didn’t even bother to pay me for the day’s efforts.
The next day, I went back to hustling lawn mowing jobs in my neighborhood. Lawn mowing was just as dirty and physically hard as the clean-up boy work, but at least the working conditions were pleasant and the people who hired me were kind and seemed grateful for my efforts. Plus, they paid promptly.
The summer between high school and college gave me another work-related lesson. The owner of the neighborhood supermarket hired me as a stock clerk. The job was difficult and physically demanding, but every one of my coworkers was friendly and welcoming. They bent over backwards to ensure I felt like part of the company’s “family”. This give and take was a stark contrast of the nightmare scenario at the car dealership.
Ever since the supermarket job, I only did work that I enjoyed and at workplaces that had a positive social culture. This was more than just a matter of “good luck”, it was through perseverance, discernment, and studying the companies before applying for employment.
Because people spend the majority of our productive lives performing some sort of labor for pay, there was no way I wanted to just put in my time, trudging through uninspiring work for people who took my talent and effort for granted. It was after that realization that I let go of my resentment of the car dealership and felt thankful for the lesson they unknowingly provided.
It is important to do satisfying work that benefits others. This leads to a fulfilling, happy life. When you ponder how precious time is, every hour should be savored. Ideally, this should be true for every hour at work and away from work. At the end of the day, there should be few or no regrets. The end of the work day should leave us pleasantly tired and satisfied about jobs well done.
These memories and reflections come to mind on Labor Day. The day that salutes labor. The first Labor Days were days of solidarity for workers who toiled at jobs at a time when there were none of the labor laws we largely take for granted.
The first Labor Day demonstration happened on September 5, 1882 in New York City. Approximately 10,000 union laborers marched in a parade in honor of all American workers.
That Labor Day was an important event in those days of the “Gilded Age” in the Industrial Revolution in the United States. There was violent suppression of strikes and boycotts. The most famous being the protests against the Pullman Palace Car Company. The railroad car company was accused of severe ill treatment of their employees.
The protests escalated into violence after President Grover Cleveland ordered federal troops to suppress the demonstrations. The President’s order only escalated the violence causing many deaths. Ironically, in the middle of the Pullman strike, President Cleveland signed the bill into law that proclaimed Labor Day as a federal holiday.
On this Labor Day, amongst all the retail sales events, barbecues, and picnics, it’s good to remember why this holiday exists and how we can preserve decent working conditions. The struggle to obtain and maintain fair labor conditions and laws is ongoing. Fair working conditions and regulations for many workers are at risk. The job market is going through major reconfigurations during these times of economic uncertainty and massive change.
As individual workers, we can remain true to ourselves, yet be open to learn new techniques. Hard work is important when it is focused on positive, helpful aims. It is vital to never give up on our dreams, even during the cynical political times we live in today. Labor Day is a time to pause and remember why we work the jobs we have or have had.
Now that I’m a retired worker I realize how important it has been to be aware that work filled the major part of my life. The reasons I felt satisfied about work is that I knew it was work that needed to be done and work I was proud to do. I have been very fortunate to be able to do work that I deeply loved. Much of the time, it was work I would have done without pay.
The fair working agreements, good working environments, benefits, and retirement arrangements came about either directly or indirectly because of the struggles of the workers from the “Gilded Age”. This is why Labor Day is still relevant today.