Did you see the special jerseys and caps Major League Baseball has rolled out for Labor Day weekend? The ones you can buy at the team store, the proceeds of which will go to help displaced and disabled workers? Hahaha, of course you didn’t, because such uniforms don’t exist for Labor Day like they do for Earth Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.
Indeed, Labor Day is the only in-season national holiday that gets no commemoration from Major League Baseball whatsoever. Not even a statement from the commissioner honoring labor, organized or otherwise, despite the fact that the past half century of baseball history is inexplicably tied up with organized labor. And despite the fact that the league itself employs thousands, either directly or via its concession and stadium contractors, all of whom have to work today. Some have to come in early, as nine of the day’s fifteen contests are day games, which is unusual for a Monday. Which shows that it’s not that Major League Baseball doesn’t know it’s Labor Day. They’re perfectly aware of how it lends itself to making more money at the gate. They just don’t think it’s worth commemorating much beyond that.
This, of course, is not just Major League Baseball’s failing. It’s a reflection of where we are as a society. While most of you reading this may view my words here as unwelcome political sentiment, the fact remains that the institution of Labor Day itself was a political act, taken by politicians and business owners in order to appease workers they had just murdered and brutalized. What’s more, the obliteration and demonization of the labor movement is one of the most successful political operations of the past 40 years. Organized labor makes up a smaller portion of the workforce than it ever has. Even a great many of the people who do the working in this country have bought in to the notion — propagated by those who profit from labor — that unions are tools of the communists and giving any lip service to the rights of workers is a suspect and even un-American pursuit. Good, secure jobs with good pay and benefits have come to be seen as rare luxuries for which it is rude to ask, let alone expect. What’s worse: many workers themselves have adopted the language of the rich and powerful in this regard, having been convinced that their need to hustle harder than they used to in order to make less in real dollars than they used to is somehow a good thing.
I’m not sure what to do about that, but even if the devaluation of labor is bound to continue, there is no reason why baseball cannot at least commemorate and acknowledge a national holiday devoted to laborers the way in which they acknowledge the environment, the sick and those who have died for our country. And make no mistake: workers have died for our country too. People die on the job every day and you likely cross a bridge, enter a building or drive on a road that was paid for, in part, by workers’ lives every day. People have likewise died in the name of worker’s rights and in the name of keeping more people from dying on the job. Beyond all of that, labor built this country. The labor movement has saved lives that would have been lost and has elevated the standard of living of families. Odds are that, whether you accept it or not, labor and workers in your own family allowed you to get where you are now.
But baseball has no plans to mark the occasion apart from scheduling some extra day games. Maybe a special cap or jersey isn’t a big deal and maybe such symbolic gestures wouldn’t make a difference. But our values are revealed in both our substantive and our symbolic gestures. And it’s regrettable that the quintessentially American institution of baseball can’t find time to give even a nod to the men and women who form the figurative foundation of American society and built the literal foundation of America itself.