While most of us have Labor Day off, some people keep on working. While in the Mesabi Iron Range back in 2012, there were certainly a lot of empty streets and the smell of grilling meats. But so too were there a lot of people at work in the open-pit mines.
There were many ways to look at this. The relentlessness of human greed. The upending of American priorities. The willful destruction of the environment (the hills are beautiful where giant scars haven’t been torn into them).
I preferred, though, to see dignity in this labor on Labor Day. The iron being mined in the Mesabi builds America, and pulling it from the Earth constitutes the unheralded beginnings of cities and bridges and airplanes and yes, barbecue grills. And more essential even than this is the nobility of the American worker. I am no believer in the intrinsic virtue of hard work as a mechanism of patriotic fealty or personal self-worth. But what I am a believer in is the intrinsic virtue of the American worker. That some were at their work on the very day set aside to celebrate it seemed to me as something inviolable. Theirs was the toil of the anonymous backbone of my country. It is right to celebrate them.