Labor Day was started in 1882 by labor unions, but it would be many more years before it would be recognized as a Federal Holiday. Oregon was the first state to recognize and honor Labor Day in 1887. Finally in 1894, it became a national holiday on the first Monday in September under the Cleveland Administration. Congress passed it unanimously, a very rare event indeed.
Reflecting back, the United States can proudly celebrate the influence of its labor unions and how they have helped to protect the too often marginalized and voiceless. The Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire proved there was still a great deal of work to be accomplished by the labor movement. Labor Unions also worked to protect children and helped to establish an eight hour work day, fair wage laws, and breaks for safety and meals.
Sadly, America seems to be losing its appreciation of Labor Unions while privileging profit over people. Thanks to President Clinton’s NAFTA and similar agreements as well as vulture capitalists like Mitt Romney, we find our country sending jobs to other countries where we exploit workers for pennies and then leave those countries to find even cheaper labor.
Even sadder is that when President Obama proposes work bills for the unemployed, all of the bills are met with categorical Republican Obstructionists. All this does is end up hurting the everyday worker in the Unites States. I have to say it takes a great deal of chutzpah for people like Romney and Ryan to talk about solving issues of the economy when Ryan has been one of the architects of the Great Obstructionist Movement, privileging the rich while crushing and reducing the middle class.
On a personal note, it also saddens me that people like Romney and Ryan are working hard to allow companies like Chick-Fil-A to discriminate against the LGBTQ community and deny us employment for being gay. At the Federal level, pointless votes are taken to repeal the Affordable Care Act, money is wasted defending the clearly unconstitutional DOMA, and the war on women has the House attacking birth control and Planned Parenthood. They bleat about jobs and the economy but do nothing, while at the state level the Scott Walkers are dismantling unions and isolating workers from the political process.
Labor Day isn’t just an excuse for a long weekend or a chance to grill an extra hot dog before autumn sets in. It’s a chance to reflect on the work that is done at all levels of our society and the value of all that labor. It’s a chance to celebrate the collaboration that makes work better and working conditions safer. In the words of the great Joe Hill (as sung by Billy Bragg, thanks to my husband for the choice of Bragg):
Now I long for the morning that they realise
Brutality and unjust laws can not defeat us
But who’ll defend the workers who cannot organise
When the bosses send their lackeys out to cheat us?
Money speaks for money, the Devil for his own
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone
What a comfort to the widow, a light to the child
There is power in a Union.
Happy Labor Day to all of our brothers and sisters that have to work today and that have no pension, no health benefits, and are at the poverty line.