On the 5th of September in 1882, the first Labor Day parade took place in New York City and 10,000 people took an unpaid day off from work to celebrate the American workforce. More importantly, they marched for better working conditions and better treatment in the workplace. On June 28th,1894 Congress finally made it a legal national holiday.
Fast forward to 2009 and we see that the labor movement is alive, but not necessarily well as relocating jobs to right to work states, outsourcing of jobs, and global competition strain relations between management and labor. And frankly, the rest of us haven't helped either with our bigger, faster, and cheaper mindsets, a living wage is disappearing from the bargaining table for those in the industrial/manufacturing trades. As the recession lingers, other workers are becoming job insecure such as school para-professionals, home healthcare workers, and other human service workers.
While unions continue to have Labor Day picnics and politicians come calling for their support, many of the rest of us enjoy a day of leisure. The struggles for the working person have not lessened over the years and, as the health care reform issue shows, we have a long way to go to ensure that conditions for all people improve, both in the workplace and in the world.
My Dad, who was a union printer who moved on to white-collar labor only to find in his mid-70's that he needed to continue to work. Part of it is his spirit and desire to contribute, but the other is cost of living. I'm sure he is working today at Home Depot, as he has for the last few years. When he suffered a hernia on the job it wasn't the Home Depot that paid for his health care, it was Medicare--something the unions supported. While he was on the mend, used his vacation days and sick leave to recover, thanks to the effort of unions. I'm sure the store will be busy with people fixing up their homes and taking advantage of the three day weekend--again thanks to the unions. Labor helped to create safe conditions, better wages and compassion for others.
Blogger and writer Anthony Del Pellegrino wrote "But there is another side of Labor Day that is also celebrated. It is the side that rejoices in the dignity of labor. Labor affords one a sense of purpose, as well as the opportunity to rejoice in the fruits of their labors. It is a driving force that does more than just keep an economy strong, it keeps ones soul strong."
So let's rejoice in our labors and those who fought to make things better for future generations. Let's also remember that those who do not remember the lessons of history are doomed to repeat the mistakes of history.