Lughnasa Waning Summer Moon
Labor Day. The bookend to Memorial Day. In my youth the end of summer because school started the next day. Labor Day falls between Lughnasa, the first fruits harvest festival and Mabon, the second harvest festival. Mabon falls under the harvest moon, about which I learned this fascinating bit of lunar lore only this week.*
The Great Wheel rolls through the year with an emphasis on agriculture, marking the growing season from Beltane to Samain and the fallow season from Samain to Beltane. That was half of the eastern Indiana in which I grew up. Cornfields planted along dusty gravel roads. Fields full of Holsteins and their milking barns. Herefords and Angus for beef. Soybeans. County fairs. 4-H. In fact, agriculture was the origin of the long summer break for school children, with the farms need for the whole family during the intensity of the growing season.
The other half though was the antithesis of the Great Wheel. It was time marked off by time-clocks, shift work, assembly lines. Circadian rhythms, so important to plants and animals on the farm, got shoved aside as inefficient. Factories belched and whirred 24 hours a day, seven days a week, winter and summer. The 1950’s and the 1960’s were the post war industrial boom when manufacturing turned to domestic goods, especially cars which needed tires, steel, glass.
The long supply lines for then magisterial Detroit extended out to smoky Pittsburgh for steel, central Ohio for Firestone and BF Goodrich tires, and in our case, Anderson, Indiana for headlights, taillights, and alternators for General Motor’s cars at Guide Lamp and Delco Remy. These factories concentrated blue-collar workers, 25,000 between the two at their peak employment which coincided with my elementary and high school days, the mid-1950’s to the mid-1960’s.
At its own peak during this same time period the United Auto Workers (UAW) union was among the most powerful labor organizations in the world. Most of my friends and classmate’s parents, usually fathers, worked at either Guide or Delco. The successful contract negotiations were made possible by a willingness of UAW workers for Ford, GM, and Chrysler to strike. The UAW had a strategy which involved focusing on one of the big three at every contract negotiation cycle, threatening and when necessary, executing a strike against each in turn. If there was a strike, the striking workers for, say GM, in the case of the Guide and Delco workers, would negotiate for the whole industry.
Over time this careful exercise of the power of workers resulted in salary and benefits which allowed folks with less than a high school education to own homes, cars, have good health care, and send their kids to college. Alexandria, my hometown of 5,000, was prosperous. Downtown had a men’s store, Baumgartner’s and a women’s store, Fermen’s, two pharmacies, two movie theaters, the Alex and the Town, the Bakery, Broyle’s furniture store, Guilkey’s shoe repair shop, banks, dime stores, a department store, P.N. Hirsch, Mahony’s shoe store, and two grocery stores. It bustled on Friday nights with shoppers and kids going to the Kid Kanteen located on the second floor of a downtown business.
This is what we celebrate on Labor Day. We lift a cultural glass to the work of Joe Hill, Samuel Gompers, to the unsung organizers who worked in coal mines and gold mines, car factories and farm fields. Labor Day honors the now often forgotten need to balance the power of capital with the power of the worker. No individual worker can stand up to Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, or to McDonalds, Burger King or the hospital and clinic, the hotel and motel, the auto manufacturers of our day. But, there is no UAW equivalent for employees of these industries.
As a result, as a direct result, blue-collar work and even much white collar work, does in fact pit individual employees against their employers when it comes to salary and health care, other benefits. Of course there are a few enlightened employers out there, but they are by far the exception. The rest squeeze the worker as a cost center no different from raw materials or supply chain products.
In a perverted and socially evil transformation, the former engine of social progress that was labor has morphed into workers without representation, workers who feel their world shifting out from underneath them, or already shifted. These workers and those who depend on them are now the fungible underbelly of American politics, their anger and fear driving a populist revolt.
This Labor Day is no holyday, no holiday. No, it’s a hollowed out thank you for the bravery and strength of a movement now stuttering in its attempt to cope with the disaggregation of workers, with the continual narrowing of those who have plenty, with the bloated salaries of CEO’s and top management, with the unimaginable concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands.
*September’s Full Moon was called the Full Corn Moon or Harvest Moon by the early North American Farmers. The term “Harvest Moon” refers to the Full Moon that occurs closest to the Autumnal Equinox. The Full Moon closest to this Equinox rises about 20 minutes later each night as opposed to the rest of the year when the moon rises around 50 minutes later each night. This was important to early farmers because they had more nights of bright moon light to gather crops. Moongiant