Wye Island NRMA

Wye Island NRMA

Monday, September 1, 2014

A Runner's Thanks to the Labor Movement

I began Labor Day with a trail run at Soldiers Delight Natural Resource Management Area, a small state park that protects some of the region's rarest and most endangered species. The park is deserving of a post, and I intend to write about my experiences there in the near future. However, I dedicate this post to the American labor movement and the worker-activists of the past two centuries who fought tirelessly for the noble principles of democracy and dignity in work.

When we set out for weekend races or long runs or simply lace our shoes for a post-work evening jaunt, we rarely reflect on how exceptional and privileged we are. Amateur runners, the majority of our sport's participants, depend on leisure - the free time outside of our professional lives to engage in sport. Without the extra time beyond that which is necessary to acquire our most immediate needs, we could not be competitive runners.

Unions of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century understood the importance of recreation, leisure, and socialization for the health of the human body and spirit. The battles for fair wages, remuneration of labor, and a reduction in working hours were to create a life worth living - a life that included time for expression, enjoyment, and self-betterment. The early labor movement existed alongside urban reformers and the budding conservation movement, both of which promoted health through exercise and exposure to natural spaces. But how could one take advantage of these social goods without time, energy, and income?

And so with strikes, sit-ins, countless publications, rallies, campaigns, and ballots, unions, and all those who wished to form or join unions, fought for and built the foundation of a great society. Over time, however, work on this project slowed and nearly ceased, and that foundation, carefully laid over many decades, began to crumble and decay under the endless assaults from malignant forces. We now have much work to do to restore that foundation and protect the rights of all workers. Much like an athlete after a long layoff from injury, we must regain lost ground before we can progress.

But back to running. Thanks to the labor movement and the nation it built throughout the twentieth century, I've enjoyed access to quality education, which I then used to attain a good job with union protections and benefits. My forty(ish)-hour workweeks, weekends, vacations, and holidays afford the time and freedom for expression and personal growth, which include running and writing this blog. I lament that the vision of progressive labor unions is far from reality, and the benefits that I enjoy, which I consider to be basic human rights, are merely a social privilege. Thus, I feel both a great debt to the labor movement and an obligation to all who lack the work-place protections, fair wages, and security that allow me participate in my beloved sport.