Aug. 20, 2005


by Philip F. Deaver

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Poem: "Flying" by Philip F. Deaver, from How Men Pray: Poems. © Florida Poetry Series. Reprinted with permission.


I have a flying dream,
have since I was a kid.
In it, I remember suddenly
how to fly, something
for some reason I've forgotten;
by getting to a certain place
in my mind, I'm able simply to rise.
I go up only about sixty or seventy feet,
but that's high enough to look down on
my house, the one I grew up in,
in Tuscola, look down on it
and the trees of the neighborhood;
it's high enough to watch my father
from above as he leaves for work,
to see my mother as she gathers grapes
from the backyard arbor,
to see my sister in her pretty dress,
pulling all her friends in our wagon
down the long, new sidewalks,
to see our many dogs over the years—
high enough to see the blur of childhood,
to put my quiet shadow over all of us
early on. In the dream it's a summer's day
and I might sometimes also
be the one looking up, squinting hard
and seeing way high above
birds moving, black spots against the blue

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet Heather McHugh, born in San Diego, California (1948).

It's the birthday of Jacqueline Susann, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1918). More than anyone before her, she used her public persona and the mass media to sell books. She developed a system for promoting Valley of the Dolls that helped to revolutionize the way books are marketed. She went on coast-to-coast tours, appeared on local radio and television stations, and made personal appearances in bookstores to read and sign autographs.

It's the birthday of gothic horror author H(oward) P(hilips) Lovecraft, born in Providence, Rhode Island (1890). He said, "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown."

It was on this day in 1862 that the newly formed National Labor Union called upon Congress for the first time to establish the eight-hour work day. The United States had been a country mostly of farmers until the early 1800's, and farmers based their working hours on the season, and the number of hours of sunlight they had each day. It was only after American workers began moving to the cities to take factory jobs that they began to demand more regulated working schedules. Many workers were forced to work between ten and sixteen hours a day, six days a week, with no paid holidays or vacations.

The slogan for the movement to get an 8-hour workday was "8 Hours Labor, 8 Hours Recreation, 8 Hours Rest." There were huge demonstrations and labor strikes throughout the 1870s and the 1880s in support of the eight hour workday. 100,000 workers went on strike in New York City to get the eight hour workday in 1872. In 1886, 80,000 people marched down Michigan Avenue in support of the eight hour workday in Chicago. That same year, 350,000 workers went on strike nationwide in support of the same cause. But after a strike led to violence at the McCormick Reaper Manufacturing Company, and the subsequent Haymarket Square Riot, the government chose to suppress labor activism, rounding up labor leaders and arresting them.

It wasn't a labor leader who helped bring the eight-hour work day into the mainstream. It was Henry Ford. When most other factory owners had their employees working more than fifty hours a week, Henry Ford mandated that his employees work only five eight-hour days a week, because he believed that employees with a little time on their hands would be better consumers, and therefore better for business.

The eight-hour workday didn't become federal law until 1933, when Congress enacted the National Industrial Recovery Act, which provided for the establishment of maximum hours, minimum wages, and the right to collective bargaining. Then, with the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, American workers were guaranteed overtime pay for hours worked above 40 per week.

At the time those laws were passed, most sociologists predicted that Americans would work steadily fewer and fewer hours. But in fact, the opposite has happened. Today, more than 25 million Americans work more than 49 hours each week. And 11 million spend 60 hours or more at work each week. Americans also take fewer vacation days than employees in any other industrialized nation.

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