For my day job, I am a union worker in an old building. This building is part of New York City’s history. This is part of our labor’s history as well. Although the doors officially opened in 1929, the building was completed in 1927.
Some of the stories I’ve heard are conflicting. I have been told that my building was the tallest in the world until The Chrysler opened up in 1930. But the history books tell the story differently.
Sometimes I find myself opening up old walls and breaking through old columns to find newspaper clippings from 1927. The paper is brittle and yellow and most often crumpled, which makes it difficult to unfold and read the news.
What amazes me most is the newspaper has not been touched by human hands in almost 100 years. Whomever it was that left this there perhaps left the paper tucked away without giving to the notion that someone might find it someday.
I found a page from the real estate section once. The rents were somewhere around $60 and the buying price of apartments on Park Avenue were somewhere between $10 – $15 per square foot.
I think about the workers that left the newspapers behind in the columns. I wonder if this was something from their lunch break and somehow, the paper was closed up in the column by a carpenter or a joiner.
I’ve found old bottles in the columns. I’ve found old beer cans throughout the years which perhaps, if either of them could talk, I’m sure there is a story behind them all.
We found the original loading dock sign which is where all the materials were hoisted up by Otis Elevator. We kept the sign. This was impressive to us all.
I wonder if anyone ever thought much about someone finding these old remnants. I wonder if the workers were anything like us now.
I think about the common worker today and the things we face together. I think about the union trades and the mounting concerns for non-union labor and open shops that try to sneak their way in. I think about the call for unity and the need for solidarity, which concerns me because for the moment, it is hard to see anything as unified.
I think about back then and the upcoming depression they faced. Families were frightened. Money was tight. The world was a much different place and the dignity behind a handshake meant more than it does now.
My old man was born in late May of 1929. He came from this time. He used to tell me stories about my Grandparents. He told me about a game they called “boning,” which was a game that came up at dinnertime.
The game was to eat everything from the bone and the challenge was to see who could clean the bone the best. No matter what kind of bone it was; whether it was from a chicken wing, a drumstick, breast, or the occasional steak, the object of the game was to eat every morsel from the bone until the bone was perfectly clean.
As a kid, I never thought much about this game. In fact, as a kid, I thought the game made no sense. As a grown man and as a homeowner, as someone that understands what it means to live through financial hardships, I understand more about the game.
This was a way to be sure and conserve food. Waste nothing because one never knows when fortune will come this way again.
The Old Man was furious when he saw anyone waste food, which was tough on me because I was a terrible eater when I was a kid.
The first Labor Day was back on September 5, 1882. This was started with a Labor Union leader by the name of Peter J. McGuire.
Our City was still young back then. And look at it now. Look at the buildings and the skyscrapers. Look at the lights that NYC gives off and how the flickering from Times Square illuminates in Midtown and the nighttime sky.
All of this has been built by the worker; all of the construction and all of the buildings and the plans and all of the piping, the electricity, all of the steel, the concrete, and all of the labor it took to go into this was from the workers that not only built the City — this is what built our entire country.
And I know we are in tough times right now. We are facing a depression. Unemployment is going the wrong way.
My city is not ruined but the financial future is definitely uncertain. We have our problems. We have racial tensions. We have our controversies and our secrets. I know this is true; however, I also know that it is equally true that we have rebuilt from tragedy on more than one occasion.
We have rebuilt after natural disasters. We have rebuilt after terrorism. All of this has been rebuilt by the blood, sweat, labor and hard work of workers like myself and my Father before me.
I am proud of this. I am proud of my blue collar heritage and my history. I am proud that I can say yes, I’ve built things. I’ve connected piping. I’ve made repairs. I’ve made it so that people can come to work in a commercial office building and earn their living.
Let’s just hope that this will not fade away. Let’s hope that our labor will not go unaddressed or ever be forgotten.
Today is about our ability to build. And now above all times is the time for us to realize that nothing was built on a solo level. No, our City and our entire country was built because when it was time to work, people like us were able to work together. Let us be mindful and remember that there is no separation in unity.
When The Towers went down and Downtown was nearly destroyed, I watched men and women stand together and rebuild the area, brick by brick. And no, this wasn’t easy. No, this was a painful journey — and it still is painful for me.
I have a tear in my eye whenever I am downtown. I shed a tear whenever I look up at The Freedom Tower. I weep when I see the fountains and the 911 monuments.
Sure, I weep. Of course, I do. I lost some of my friends there. However, my tears are not all from sadness but moreso, my tears are for the love and loyalty, unity, and for the solidarity that is created by the everyday worker to rebuild when rebuilding seemed to be an impossibility.
I know there are CEO positions and CFO positions that are more prestigious but me, I come home with dirty hands.
My back hurts. My knees kill me sometimes. My hands hurt from swinging wrenches but at least I have a roof above my head and food on the table.
Part of why I made a break into the wellness world is to help ensure the wellness of the common worker. And as for the CEO and CFO positions, they wouldn’t have their buildings or pricey addresses if it weren’t for us, the workers that built them.
Happy Labor Day to my brothers and sisters in the workforce.
Thank you for showing me the way to a good living.