Monday, 1 September 2014

Labour Day and Elizabeth Gaskell

I think it's funny that we commemorate Labour Day by resting from our labours. It has become a day for back-to-school sales and picnics and closing up the cottage. But I delved further into its actual roots by reading North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. It was dense reading, but it gave me a better understanding of the impact of the formation of unions, and a new appreciation for the relative ease of my job and fairness of my work environment. Not to mention indoor plumbing and inoculations and all those other perks that come with having been clever enough to have been born in the 20th century.

One aspect of the book that was interesting to me was how an organization ostensibly formed to benefit the worker ultimately became a Master itself. The labourers founds themselves crushed by both their employers and the union. The theory was good but some of the initial attempts at unionization had their flaws. As I suppose all big enterprises can. Human personality sabotaged some of the otherwise hopeful efforts. Nothing great can be gained without some errors being made along the way. The question is, can the greater good justify the harm done to individuals who get caught in the path of progress? And has unionization today proven worth it? I suspect the responses to that question would be a mixed bag. I've had limited experience with it myself, but the one time I had to turn to my union representative for assistance proved to be useless. Ah well, the theory remains good.

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