The Norman Transcript

September 12, 2013

The real meaning of Labor Day

By Wallace Collins
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Before I left for my journey to Henryetta for their annual Labor Day Parade, I read the guest column in the Norman Transcript by Oklahoma Labor Commissioner Mark Costello.

Commissioner Costello started out talking about why we celebrate Labor Day but quickly ventured into a dialog about entrepreneurism and big business, the typical Republican rhetoric.

As I drove along the interstate, I kept thinking about the column, written by a person that apparently has never done a “day’s work” like I and many others have. It jogged my memory of his earlier statements calling state employees, then teachers, “feral hogs.”

We recognize Labor Day to honor the laborers that made our state and country great. The backbone of the middle class, the people who work hard to earn a day’s wages and spend it to better their own families. The same labor that is rebuilding Oklahoma communities hit by devastating tornadoes this spring. Heavy equipment operators that helped remove all the debris, the sanitation workers that were even working that day while the rest of us had a holiday.

I thought of the carpenters, electricians, roofers, concrete workers, plumbers who will help rebuild houses, schools and buildings destroyed by the storm. Those skilled workers, known as “allied trades” in the union parlance, are the reasons we celebrate Labor Day.

As I drove down the highway, I saw the large number of trucks carrying the goods of America to market. Even though it was Labor Day, they were still working, keeping America humming.

That reminded me of my days working in the trucking industry, keeping the “big rigs” running down the highways. Someone has to maintain the trucks and trailers to haul America’s freight.

On the way, I stopped and bought gas; convenience store workers were on the job this holiday, and I saw three different Oklahoma Highway patrol cars, so they were also working this holiday. That made me think of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, where the overworked and underpaid state employees were probably working another 16-hour shift because, as you know, guarding prisoners is a never-ending job.

As I drove, I listened to KGOU public radio, where those employees were on the job, even though it was a holiday. After leaving the KGOU broadcast range, I switched to “Bluesville” and listened to Tony Coulter as he played “Muddy Waters,” Champion Jack Dupree and others while he worked on Labor Day.

As I continued my drive, I saw a drilling rig searching for new energy sources in the Oklahoma clay. Those workers on the rig didn’t have the day off, and neither did the welder who was called out because something was broken on Labor Day. Similarly, I saw a tow truck driver helping a motorist who was broken down or out of gas on Interstate 40.

My mind wandered as I continued east, thinking about the teachers who had the day off, but they were getting ready for school tomorrow. I wondered what they thought about the politically motivated statement by Superintendent of Public Education Janet Barresi, who must of now realized there is an election next year. In an effort to buy votes, Barresi said she is in favor of giving teachers a $2,000 pay raise but will let the various school districts find the money to pay for the raises.

Just ahead, there is a cloud of dust. Then I see a farmer pulling a disc over his field in preparation of planting another crop; he isn’t taking the entire day off, either.

About that time, I heard a freight train blow its horn. Those railroad workers were on the job, hauling America’s produce to market, keeping businesses supplied with products to sell on the days after the holiday.

Soon, I was in Henryetta and lined up for the parade. As I looked around at my Labor Day companions, I could see workers representing various trades, electrical workers, auto workers, machinists, insulation workers, carpenters, plumbers and pipefitters, roofers, concrete workers and all manner of laborers.

Additionally, there were several communities represented by their volunteer firefighters, driving the trucks they most likely refurbished themselves from surplus military equipment. All gathered together in Henryetta to celebrate “their day” to show the world, or at least Oklahoma, what they do to contribute to the economy of the state and nation.

These are the people who keep our county humming, and in my estimation, these people, these crafts, are the reason we celebrate on Labor Day. Whether they get the day off or not, we should honor their contribution to our great nation.

After the parade, and eating barbecue, hot links and listening to some speeches, I headed back to Norman for the Cleveland County Democratic Labor Day event, where, again, we honored the working people of our state.

Commissioner Costello, I didn’t see you anywhere. Where were you on Labor Day?

Wallace Collins, of Norman, is a former state representative and now serves as chairman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party.