For a long time the debate over why and how two New York City Firefighters lost their lives battling a conflagration at the abandoned Deutsche Bank Building across the street from Ground Zero will go on. One fact is indisputable, however- Joseph Graffagnino and Robert Beddia died doing work that they loved with every fiber of their being.
They were far from being the only firefighters who loved their jobs, however difficult and dangerous those jobs might be. Across the country, according to preliminary figures from the upcoming Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2008, 253,000 firefighters, the great majority of whom see their jobs as an elevated calling, are on duty rosters at firehouses across the country.
Other occupations are also well represented, according to that same upcoming Statistical Abstract- 6.8 million teachers, 767,000 hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists, 282,000 taxi drivers and chauffeurs (no, they are not all based in New York City), 245,000 pharmacists, 203,000 musicians, singers and related workers, to name but a few. In all, the United States Census Bureau estimated that 152.8 million people age 16 and older, 82.1 million men and 70.7 million women, made up the nation's labor force as of May 2007.
This coming Monday, September 3, we will honor those 152.8 million workers on the nation's 103rd Labor Day. A creation of the labor movement, Labor Day is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well being of this country. Parades, speeches, fireworks and picnics across the country will celebrate the American worker. Not all of those workers will take the day off, either, Healthcare workers, subway motormen and conductors, bus drivers, restaurant workers, police and firefighters, among many others, will still be on duty, ensuring that the rest of us can enjoy a safe and happy holiday to mark the end of summer.
Samuel Gompers, founder and longtime president of the American Federation of Labor, pointed out that among holidays, Labor Day is unique. "Labor Day differs in every essential way from the other holidays of the year in any country. All other holidays are in a more or less degree connected with conflicts and battles of man's prowess over man, of strife and discord for greed and power, of glories achieved by one nation over another. Labor Day...is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation." It stands out as the holiday celebrating "the little guy"- the great anonymous army that has added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought America closer to the realization of its traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the American worker- the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership. And we mean all workers- those visible and invisible without whom our daily lives would not function, who work at jobs they love and jobs they hate, who spent years learning their craft, trade or profession or who were hired off the street to take on tasks that required little more than literacy and basic arithmetic but which are nonetheless essential to the smooth running of the intricate, manyparted entity that makes up our environment. Some are taking the day off and some are still at their appointed duties, but all are necessary and needed. We urge our readers to join with us in taking a moment on this Labor Day 2007 to honor the living and remember those who, like Firefighters Beddia and Graffagnino, died on duty, doing their jobs so that the rest of us could go on with our work and our lives.