This Labor Day Weekend

Labor Day weekend marks the end of summer. Americans flock to the malls and stores to take advantage of sales or fire up the grill to indulge in hamburgers and hot dogs with friends and family. That’s fine.  Yet, how many of us consider the meaning and origin of Labor Day?

ValparaisoIndiana-DowntownLaborDayParade-BW-1914-SS
Labor Day Parade, Valparaiso, Indiana, 1914 (Courtesy of Indiana GenWeb Project). Notice that the whole town has turned out to observe and honor the parade. Would that happen today?

Following the massacre of striking Pullman workers by federal marshals, Congress unanimously–yes, that’s right–approved legislation designating Labor Day a national holiday, and President Grover Cleveland quickly signed the legislation into law in 1894. Certainly, the holiday was created in the hope of avoiding large-scale labor unrest and bringing organized labor into the political system. On Labor Day, local trade unions and labor groups organized parades to display the might of labor and to instill a spirit of camaraderie among their members and the public in their respective towns and cities.

Let us honor workers of yesterday and today by remembering what we as a country owe to unions and labor organizers. The eight-hour workday, forty-hour workweek, minimum wage, child labor laws, and workplace safety standards all are taken for granted today. Before organized labor and their influence on the political system, none of these existed. Unfortunately, decades of outsourcing, deindustrialization, and hostile politicians have hobbled and weakened the American labor movement.

Mayday
An illustration capturing the essence of the labor movement (Art by Ricardo Levins Morales).

I’m a product of a union household and a former union member myself. My allegiances are clear. However, as union membership has dwindled, economic inequality and the erosion of the middle and working classes has increased. America’s socio-economic and political elites seem to have little issue with either phenomenon. They appear to understand the power of organized Americans and strive to hamstring it.

Remember this on Labor Day.

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