By Zack Rosenberg
An Olive Branch..?
While many refer to Labor Day as the end of Summer, we wouldn’t be much of a career oriented blog if we didn’t delve into the true meaning of the day. So light up your grills, enjoy the day off, and remember why it is Labor Day exists.
A Celebration of Labor
It’s really easy to think the way things are is the way it always was, right? Could you imagine the outrage if we went to a local restaurant and a 6 year-old was busing tables or worse, a man with a family that was making $.10 an hour and/or+ no standard work hours? This was reality and we aren’t talking a million years ago.
Doing the only thing reasonable, workers began to unionize. This despite the efforts of their
masters bosses. Brutally beating any and all who would even toy with the notion of banding together for the greater good of their fellow workers.
Sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Working to create a better life.
While many of the above items weren’t addressed until FDR’s Presidency (even though many of these laws were actually on the books, though not enforced), it is important to keep that in mind the next time you complain about your work conditions. At the very least when you call your mom to complain that your co-worker ate your lunch.
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C’mon Beth! What’s up with that?!
Someone do something about this.
While there is still plenty of dispute around where the idea came from, (was it Matthew Maguire, a machinist or Peter McGuire, a carpenter?) the precise origin isn’t as important as the movement.
What we do know is that on September 5th, 1882 in NYC that many of these unions pushed for a day to recognize the workers of America. Though it wasn’t quite official, over 10,000 workers “marched” to City Hall and the tradition carried on.
The fact that anything came to be was a nod to finally having their power over politics. Shortly after Labor Day began to spread to other states. Though it wasn’t until 1894 (12 years later) that Congress made it national. It was President Grover Cleveland seeking re-election, who pushed through this “concession” of a single day paid day off following a deadly railroad strike that killed more than a dozen. Public outrage obviously ensued.
Lets keep in mind this is a body of people in Congress that work about 6 months a year, telling people who work 7 days a week for peanuts, one day off is something that needs to truly be debated. How little has changed. Sigh.
Though it should also be noted that Grover Cleveland lost his re-election bid….well the first time. He won again fours year later, becoming the first President to be re-elected in nonconsecutive terms.
Labor Day was born!
First observance of Labor Day were to come in the form of a street parade to exhibit to the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families.
This became the pattern for the celebrations of Labor Day. Speeches by prominent politicians were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic significance of the holiday. Later on, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement. Of course this later became the first Monday in September.
From the Department of Labor
“The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.”
Nice sentiment, right?
The future of Labor
As unions continue to decline, their work will not be soon forgotten.
However you plan to celebrate, be in the moment and thankful for those who went before you. More importantly remember there is still a ways to go. From equal pay for women, paid sick leave, and increased minimum wage, and so much more.
We can only hope that 100 years from now the fight will have moved beyond and towards a place of progress for all.