The contributions made by unions to the betterment of America’s workers is primarily the reason we celebrate Labor Day. The influence of organized labor cannot be ignored.
Most of the benefits workers now enjoy are directly attributable to unions:
- The 40 hour work week
- paid holidays and vacations
- sick leave
- grievance procedures
- collective bargaining
- generally superior wages.
Unfortunately, we have come to take those benefits for granted. Benefits came about because of unions and soon became the norm for union workers and many non-union workers as well. All American workers owe a debt of gratitude to Organized Labor for its achievements.
Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York.
In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a “workingmen’s holiday” on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country. By 1909 all U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and the territories have made it a statutory holiday.
On Labor Day, let’s look at the benefits brought to us by Organized Labor:
Benefits of Unions:
Reinforcement of the middle class. States with higher rates of unionization have lower rates of poverty, crime, and failing schools.
Raise of wages for all workers. Studies show that a large union presence in an industry or region can raise wages even for non-union workers. Women in unions make 33% more non-union women, and are more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and pensions.
Reducing wage inequality. Unions raise wages the most for low- and middle-wage workers and workers without college degrees.
Creation of mine safety laws strengthening mine safety standards and protecting the rights of mine workers.
The legal participation of Organized Labor has gotten many bills through Congress. In the last 50 or so years these include:
So as we celebrate Labor Day, let’s look at it as not just a day off from work, but as recognition of the relationship of the worker to democracy.
- Labor Day, How it Came About and What it Means (clarksvilleonline.com)
- The History of Labor Day (womensphilanthropy.typepad.com)
- History of Labor Day (thehrstrategiesblog.wordpress.com)
- Why Call it Labor Day When Most People Have the Day Off? (interactive360.wordpress.com)
- For U.S. unions, holiday begins somber election countdown (news.terra.com)
- Labor Day & POLITICAL ACTION 2012 (propresobama.org)
- Labor Day – An American Holiday (givemeda411.wordpress.com)
- The Arts of Labor Day (thewip.net)
- Construction workers crucial to US landscape (syracuse.com)