Not What It Used to Be

Monday, September 3, 2012

The job market isn't what it used to be. And I, for one, am grateful.

I know there are many unemployed people who are desperately searching for any job at all, and I don't want to minimize their plight. But this post is aimed at those of us who are currently employed or are retired after a long career.

As we celebrate Labor Day, we honor all who work in factories, fields, offices, classrooms, or at other job sites. Hard work and dedicated workers abound in today's work environment. But as I look back at earlier times, I realize that workers used to have a much harder life.

Here is a description of laundry workers in 1939.

The clanging of metal as the pistons bang into the sockets, the hiss of steam, women wearily pushing twelve pound irons, women mechanically tending machines, one, button half of the shirt done, two, top finished, three, sleeves pressed and the shirt is ready for the finishers, that is the scene that greeted me as I stood in the Laundry's ironing department.

Shirts, thousands of white shirts that produce such a dazzling glare that the women who work in this department wear dark glasses to protect their eyes. The heat is almost unbearable; there seems to be gushes of damp heat pushed at you from some invisible force in the mechanism of the machine. The smooth shiny faced women work in silence, occasionally dropping a word here and there, slowly wiping away dripping persperation, then back to the machines, to the heavy irons without any outward show of emotion--no protest.
Yes, there are still some backbreaking and dangerous jobs and a lot of sweaty and monotonous ones. But most of us forget how good we have it.

Labor Day should be a time to remember.


NOTE: The quote is from a manuscript compiled as part of the Federal Writers' Project in 1936-1940. These manuscripts are government-created documents and are available on the Library of Congress' website. WPA Life Histories. The excerpt is from "Laundry Workers" by Vivian Morris and is Item 208 on the New York list of American Life History manuscripts.

The photograph is from an earlier time and a different place but was the best illustration I could find to go with the text. I got the photo from Wikimedia Commons, which describes it as a 1901 photograph of Charvet's model laundry in Paris, photographer unknown. The photograph is in the public domain because of its age.

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