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Labor Day in wonderland

The months and weeks leading up to this year's Labor Day have grown curiouser and curiouser, as Alice put it in an earlier wonderland. What's happening in Poland is only the latest, if the most spectacular, instance of topsy-turvines -- not workers of the world uniting to cast off the chains of capitalism but workers liberated from capitalism. Consider a few of the other wonders to be seen through the looking galss of 1980:

* A Republican Party in Franklin D. Roosevelt's clothing flummoxing the Democrats by grabbing the employment issue and promising millions of new jobs.

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* A Democratic administration cold- shouldering the big jobs program that was shoehorned into its own Democratic Party platform.

* A top labor leader taking a seat on the board of a company not too proud to go on government welfare.

* The said board of said company taking the step of acceptingm a labor leader on its board.

* The managements deigning to participate with workers in joint councils not to undermine the unions but to improve the quality of working life.

* Workers deigning to participate with management in joint coucils not to increase featherbedding but to increase productivity for the good of all.

* American automakers complaining about the competition from foreign plants so mean and grasping as to actually run on overtime.

* American autoworkers calling for reduced foreign imports while riding to their convention in -- foreign imports.

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* Striking French fishermen blockading ports for higher fuel subsidies and keeping Britons on holiday from returning to a newly oil-rich homeland with the highest unemployment since the depression.

* Eight million jobless Americans gaining small comfort from the fact that more of their fellow citizens (98.4 million) have jobs than ever before, reaching an estimated 1980 employment rate higher even than that of economic star West Germany.

* A new labor union in Canada -- the only country where major industrial unions are controlled by parent unions in the US -- staking out a position of independence from its parents south of the border.

* The communist government of Poland seeming to give in a little more every day to those Polish strikers who remind the world that the worker's paradise is not in the realm of communism after all.

Yes, curiouser and curiouser. and more so if the gaze wanders through farther looking glasses. To anticommunist, authoritarian Taiwan, for example, where mor equity has been achieved between the high and low economic classes than in the democratic United States. Or to communist, authoritarian China, where suspiciously capitalistic incentives are cropping up to expand the export market and wall posters proclaim, "Learn from Taiwan in economy."

The Labor Day celebrated by the United States and Canada, of course, was not set up to note the wonderland aspects of the topic but to pay due tribute to the working men and women on whose efforts any country depends. Coming up from the rabbit hole, we recall that US labor leader Peter McGuire first suggested the day almost a century ago to honor the industrial spirit -- "the great vital force of the nation." It is not a bad thing to parade for now that the cry for "reindustrialization" is heard on every hand.

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