Paul Hampton

Celebrate our right to burn a burger beyond recognition

The Arizona Star

Monday is Labor Day.

Often called the “unofficial end of summer.” Although a forecast high of 88 degrees belittles that designation.

And it’s a chance to have another cookout, although it too won’t be the last. Some of us will be frying turkeys in our backyards on Thanksgiving.

In the retail world, there will be Labor Day Sales Events! So, yes there will be some labor on Labor Day, as well. Oh, and I expect just as there are on most three-day weekends, there will be a heavy police presence to protect us from ourselves. So do the law enforcement officers a favor and look at the road, not your phone.

Good luck finding someone celebrating the true meaning of Labor Day, though. Don’t expect to see throngs of union workers parading through the streets. A quick Google search for Gulf Coast Labor Day Parades comes up empty except for the usual casino shows. But I expect you could search for “feral kittens” and have it return a list of casino shows.

I’m not surprised Mississippi, a right-to-work state, isn’t honoring the labor movement. After all, we have a strong heritage of not acting in our best interests.

I grew up in a union family. My dad and brother were United Mine Workers of America members. My dad had gotten out of the mines before I met him but it’s safe to say that the safety protections afforded miners in the early part of the century greatly increased the chances for that meeting. A lot of young miners were killed before they ever had a chance to start a family. The union reduced the number of them killed.

My grandfather, my mother’s father, was a Republican. And a union man. He’d sit with us on the front porch early in the morning, waiting to see if the mine’s whistle, a couple of miles away, would blow. My brother and I hoping it wouldn’t. He, needing the paycheck, hoping it would.

And on Labor Day, there was a parade. It was a big deal. The towns fought to host it. Thousands came. Every school’s band marched. As our band director used to say, “If it snows hub deep to a Ferris wheel,” we won’t march. And we did. After practicing for days in the August heat, we’d suit up in wool and march. A carnival at the end of the parade was the reward.

Christopher, Illinois, was small but even the store clerks had a union. And when they walked out, perhaps to prevent the store owners from having a Sales Event!, the other unions stood with them. Our pantry was pretty much depleted by the end of that one because mom at that time didn’t shop out of town either.

The union built the hospital in my hometown. It built others, too. When my grandfather came down with black lung, that hospital was there for him. And the union was, too. If there hadn’t been a union, there would not have been Black Lung Benefits Act of 1973.

Both my parents had long and costly illnesses in their later years. Union health benefits earned by my father decades earlier paid their bills. And they were staggering. And if the hospitals and doctors balked at their payments, they handled those negotiations. Just send it to us, the union officials wrote.

But that was long ago. Somewhere along the line, someone convinced the very people who would benefit from organized labor that organized labor is bad.

So I guess there isn’t much to celebrate after all.

Paul Hampton: 228-284-7296, @JPaulHampton