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. Today we have an opportunity to reflect on why we need to celebrate the laborer and to look at the maldistribution of wealth in the United States. It’s particularly important to note how all of the GOP presidential candidates show nothing but contempt, disdain, and even disgust for the laborer.
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 — that whole notion of having a weekend.
Sadly, America seems to be losing its appreciation of Labor Unions while privileging profit over people. President Clinton left a nasty legacy called NAFTA and perpetuated a culture of vilifying those in poverty.
Many of us have been working in movements to increase the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour. This would be just a very small movement forward and still does not address a living wage. Sadly, the common theme from all of the GOP candidates has been nothing less than hostile, as they all seem to subscribe to the false notion of a meritocracy.
We hear Republicans bleat about jobs and the economy but do nothing, while at the state level we see a nefarious and dangerous Scott Walker are dismantling unions and isolating workers from the political process. We have seen Walker, Christie, Kasich, and Jindal bash and target teachers and unions, rather than looking at how do we redistribute wealth in an equitable way that helps to lift people out of poverty. Please take a look at this short video on the distribution of wealth; this is what we should desperately focus on and how every GOP candidate is on the wrong side of history here.
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.