Philip Levine

Philip Levine

Yes, before you ask: I do know that Labor Day was yesterday. But as you and other smart readers were relaxing, maybe attending a parade—and NOT reading legal blogs—I waited until today to share a post on the topic.

Today, I urge you to read the remarkable poem “What Work Is,” by Philip Levine. To read more of his poetry, go here, and to read the work of many other poets, go to the Poetry Foundation website.

Here is Philip:


We stand in the rain in a long line

waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.

You know what work is—if you’re

old enough to read this you know what

work is, although you may not do it.

Forget you. This is about waiting,

shifting from one foot to another.

Feeling the light rain falling like mist

into your hair, blurring your vision

until you think you see your own brother

ahead of you, maybe ten places.

You rub your glasses with your fingers,

and of course it’s someone else’s brother,

narrower across the shoulders than

yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin

that does not hide the stubbornness,

the sad refusal to give in to

rain, to the hours of wasted waiting,

to the knowledge that somewhere ahead

a man is waiting who will say, “No,

we’re not hiring today,” for any

reason he wants. You love your brother,

now suddenly you can hardly stand

the love flooding you for your brother,

who’s not beside you or behind or

ahead because he’s home trying to

sleep off a miserable night shift

at Cadillac so he can get up

before noon to study his German.

What Work Is book cover by Philip LevineWorks eight hours a night so he can sing

Wagner, the opera you hate most,

the worst music ever invented.

How long has it been since you told him

you loved him, held his wide shoulders,

opened your eyes wide and said those words,

and maybe kissed his cheek? You’ve never

done something so simple, so obvious,

not because you’re too young or too dumb,

not because you’re jealous or even mean

or incapable of crying in

the presence of another man, no,

just because you don’t know what work is.

Philip Levine, “What Work Is” from What Work Is. Copyright © 1992 by Philip Levine

Labor Day 2014, graphic by the U.S. Department of Labor

“The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., in his speech to the state convention of the Illinois AFL-CIO, Oct. 7, 1965

Or, if you prefer:

“Labor was the first price, the original purchase—money that was paid for all things. It was not by gold or by silver, but by labor, that all wealth of the world was originally purchased.”

Adam Smith

Happy Labor Day.

Labor Day 2013 Made in America stamp 2

Released on August 8, this is one of a series of stamps honoring the achievements of American workers.

If you still occasionally mail an actual letter via the U.S. Postal Service, you’ll be glad to see that the USPS just released a new stamp series that recognizes the achievements of the American workforce. What better way to honor Labor Day?

(Or the day after. No, I’m not accidentally late. Yesterday, you may have noticed, was Labor Day; if you didn’t, I hope you had a good day at work. But because most folks were grilling meats or some such on Monday, I decided it was unlikely they were reading legal blogs (I know; you protest!), so I provided a light and film-related item. I decided to save this cool Labor Day news until today.)

The “Made in America: Building a Nation” stamps were issued on August 8, and they feature workers in many manufacturing occupations.

ABC News reports, “Eleven of the 12 stamp images were by photographer Lewis Hine, a chronicler of early 20th century industry.” Those images include a man on a hoisting ball on the Empire State Building,” as well as others laying railroad tracks or mining coal.

You can view all the images in a slideshow here.

Labor Day US Department of Labor sealMore detail about every image (and, natch, a portal to buy the stamps) is here on the Postal Service’s site.

And in case you missed it, 2013 is the centennial of the Department of Labor, which was created by President William H. Taft. (I appreciate the excellent fact that “The department’s headquarters is housed in the Frances Perkins Building, named in honor of Frances Perkins, the Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945 and the first female cabinet secretary in U.S. history.”)

Congratulations to American workers, the Post Office, the Department of Labor, and the memory of a successful woman.

Labor Day 2013 Rosie the RiveterI had thought that in a Labor Day blog post, I would manage to avoid all legal topics. And yet here we are with a “lawyer” reference.

On the Tribeca website, they are kind enough to recommend “6 movies to stream this Labor Day weekend”:

“It’s a long weekend upcoming, and hopefully one where you have plenty of time to sit down with your streaming-movie service and watch a few films. We have your Labor Day-specific recommendations for movies featuring characters with interesting/unusual jobs.”

Here’s what they say about The Lincoln Lawyer:

“[Matthew McConaughey had] sneakily won a bunch of raves for The Lincoln Lawyer, which presents like a regular old boring legal thriller and then proves that legal thrillers can still be freaking excellent.”

Click here to see all their picks. And don’t let anyone tell you to go outside and enjoy the sun.