Monday, September 3, 2007

Paging Labor Day

I have a great appreciation for Bill Amend's comic strip, FoxTrot. Several years ago, Mr. Amend published a strip in which the various characters detail their plans for relaxation and fun on Labor Day; the mother character is left with a pile of chores and some muttering about how it's ironic that the one person in the house who has actually been through labor...

Of course, the "Labor" in labor day refers to the American worker, whose various achievements are duly celebrated today. I can't object in spirit to the notion of an extra day off for the worker, especially since my DH actually does get today off, which is very different from the years during which he worked at the corporate headquarters of retail companies--like so many other civil holidays, Labor Day is viewed by retail establishments as another good day to have a sale on mattresses, linens, furniture, or lumber.

The irony today is that so many workers don't, in fact, get the day off; a post-industrial "24/7" economy has little patience with the frivolous idea that people might have lives outside of the workplace. Our workers might not have to face sixteen hour days in dangerous factories with low wages and high turnover rates, but they do have to deal with the incessant demands made on them by their places of employment, demands that intrude all the time on the ordinary days off they have, like weekends and holidays.

I can remember a time when only doctors, and then mainly surgeons or obstetricians, carried pagers. Now so many types of workers do so that pagers are becoming a part of the job description: the willingness to be available, on-call, before and after working hours on weekdays and all day on the weekends is in many instances seen as a prerequisite for employment. Americans' leisure time is vanishing, and many people lament the fact that even when they are on vacation their employers expect, or even demand, the ability to reach them--and not for serious emergencies, but merely for the employer's convenience.

For a family living on one income, such as ours, these persistent and random intrusions into our life as a family are annoying, inconvenient, and frustrating; when two incomes and two pagers are involved, I can only imagine the escalation of all of that negativity, and the estrangement from the family on the part of both mom and dad who must constantly put the company's needs and demands ahead of their own as spouses, parents, and members of the wider community.

It's almost as though we've become a nation of secret agents, who at the buzz or beep of the pager must shed their mild-mannered alter egos and become, once again, the focused professionals who untangle snarled computer code or solve complex legal questions or bark orders to subordinates who have most unwillingly been called back into work on a Saturday afternoon. Watchwords about competition and viability get thrown around as if the failure to respond to that nagging electronic slave-driver on even a single occasion will result in the collapse of the entire American economy and the end of the free world; people see through that nonsensical rhetoric, but grab their pagers anyway because the failure to respond might very well mean the end of their own jobs.

So, my modest proposal is that corporations in America should be pressured to declare Labor Day "National No Pager Day" in the spirit of respecting the work their employees do all the rest of the year (yes, including Christmas Day--plenty of people get paged on that day, and it's only going to get worse). If we're serious about celebrating Labor Day, then we need companies all across this great land of ours to recapture the idea of what a "day off" actually means--a day completely free from entanglement with our employers, a day to relax, reflect, and be refreshed. I realize that even on Labor Day some employees have to go to work, but those that do should be given extra compensation for doing so; and those that take the day off should be left completely, utterly, absolutely alone for one whole single entire day. No pagers, and no pages sent.

Unless, of course, you are a doctor. Or a secret agent.


Charlie and Andrea said...

I wanted to let you know that I have just started reading your blog and I *really* enjoy your writing!

I linked over from the Real Learning boards. :-)

Red Cardigan said...

Welcome! And congratulations on the arrival of your new little one! :)

Anonymous said...

Red, I think secret agents use shoe phones, not pagers. =)

Red Cardigan said...

Shhhh, anonymous! We haven't lowered the Cone of Silence!