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)
– Dennis Kucinich
- The Hands that Feed Us: Most food industry workers earn low or poverty-level wages [The Pump Handle] (scienceblogs.com)
- Demystifying the Law: Wage & Hour Laws (blogs.lawyers.com)
- Guest view of Hilda L. Solis: ‘The great American worker is what makes America great’ (mlive.com)
- This labor day … waiting for change (blogs.berkeley.edu)
- A Bold New Labor Call for a ‘Maximum Wage’ (ourfuture.org)
- Campaign for living wage launched (radionz.co.nz)
- Labor Day Letter to President Obama (nader.org)
I covered for John Case on “Winners and Losers” this morning, and since Monday (even Labor Day Monday) is poetry day on the show, John arranged for local poet Ed Zanheiser to be on with me. Ed read some of his poems and others and we had a great chat about poetry, labor unions, Shepherdstown and other things.
Here’s Ed reading some of his work at the 2008 Montana Wilderness Association Convention. Enjoy.
Monday is Labor Day… a day when we are supposed to celebrate the working men and women that make our country great. However, many no longer remember that we celebrate this day on the first Monday in September, and not like the rest of the world does on May Day. This is because Congress, decades ago, felt that a day celebrating Labor with the rest of the world made it seem that the USA endorsed Socialism and Communism… so they changed the date and for years have turned the meaning of the the holiday to a day off for workers celebrating the end of the summer.
Here’s a sample:
- Enjoy Your Labor Day Weekend… and Be Happy You Don’t Go Back to These Maniacs on Tuesday [Photos] (fresh1027.radio.com)
- Enjoy Your Labor Day Weekend… and Be Happy You Don’t Go Back to These Maniacs on Tuesday [Photos] (wcbsfm.radio.com)
- Celebrating Labor Day (ohiolottery.wordpress.com)
- Just One Day Out of Life … It Would be So Nice! (plotmamas.wordpress.com)
September and October are going to be the big campaign months for the 2010 elections and this is the only opportunity for the Democrats to turn around the really bad numbers that are coming out in the in the polling reports. At the same time, they are going to have to do more than campaign… actually find a way to make employment figures go up or, failing that, to shift the responsibility for unemployment back to the Republicans who gave us the Bush economy.
Then there is the Tea Party movement to consider and whether that will actually help the Repubs or split them. That all depends on the who’s and where’s (the Nevada Senate race being one of the prime locations… perhaps saving Harry Reid’s career.)
I’ll be watching Manchin’s Senate race here in West Virginia where it looks like he’ll get a big majority… but that could change.
- Hugh Hewitt: “Election Outlook on Labor Day: A Veto-Proof Senate or Even a Congress?” by Clark Judge (hughhewitt.com)
- Obama Revs Into Campaign Mode in Wisconsin (cbsnews.com)
- Polling and Political Wrap, 9/6/10 (dailykos.com)
Today is the first Labor Day of my, more or less, forced retirement. My wife has no teaching responsibilities today and is sleeping late… I’m planning a Vegan delight to bring to the town Labor Day Picnic down in Morgan’s Grove Park.
According to the morning news, Obama is going to announce a $50 Billion job stimulation program (which Congress won’t get around to until they come back from vacation) in a Labor Day speech today. It’s probably too late for him to get the economy in any kind of shape before the November elections, and John Boehner is, as they say, measuring the curtains for his House Speaker‘s office.
A lot of folks who are working, who have jobs, are working even today… there’s not a lot of money to be made if you’ve managed to get a part-time store job, but take the day off. Government offices will be closed, however, and there won’t be any mail. My father always worked on Holidays… his Connecticut drugstore made its buck with family (often me) in the employee slots. I remember being in the store on Labor Day (and Easter, and Christmas, and 4th of July… you get the picture?) for the people who were picking up their tanning oil, cigarettes and soda… and a few prescriptions of course.
Somehow, Labor Day doesn’t have the kind of force as a holiday that nit used to. School starts for kids a week or two before Labor Day now, so it isn’t really the hard-edged end of summer. The Baseball season is going to run into October, so it isn’t ending here, either.
And when you are retired, every day is Labor Day. So?
(btw, labor images are from Bill ‘s Cast O’Characters, $29.95 at UTF Type Foundry.)
- Why is Labor Day in September? (Picture of the Day) (britannica.com)
…and for some reason it is very quiet in Shepherdstown. I’m having a post radio show (subbed for John Case this morning) cup of coffee at Mellow Moods, which is practically empty, Not much going on out on German Street, either.
What? Did everyone leave for the weekend?
Today is our celebration of the Labor Movement and the value of the workers who built and continue to maintain America. As a holiday, it has an interesting political history and looking at the 127 years it has been celebrated we see stark changes that have been made in the relationship between the government and labor.
As I have for the last few Labor Days, I am thinking about what happened in the U.S.A, and how our economy has changed since my younger days. In recent years (the last quarter century) the power of the Labor Movement has been so considerably weakened that our economy has become a disaster for the ordinary worker and an outrageous success for the 1% or less of the richest Americans… and we can attach the downward swirl of labor to the Presidency of Ronald Reagan.
“Republican presidents never have had much regard for unions, which almost invariably have opposed their election. But until Reagan, no GOP president had dared to challenge labor’s firm legal standing, gained through Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the mid-1930s.”
– Dick Meister, who co-authored a history of farm labor,
“A Long Time Coming,” published by Macmillan.
Reagan, oddly enough, had been a union president, head of the Screen Actors’ Guild. Meister points out that:
“…he was notoriously pro-management, leading the way to a strike-ending agreement in 1959 that greatly weakened the union and finally resigning under membership pressure before his term ended.
Reagan gave dedicated union foes direct control of the federal agencies that were designed originally to protect and further the rights and interests of workers and their unions.”
As President of the United States, Reagan’s major labor action was breaking the PATCO strike in 1981. By destroying the air Traffic Controllers’ union, Reagan sent (according to Washington Post columnist Harold Myerson)
“an unambiguous signal that employers need feel little or no obligation to their workers, and employers got that message loud and clear — illegally firing workers who sought to unionize, replacing permanent employees who could collect benefits with temps who could not, shipping factories and jobs abroad.”
Reagan’s major move was to elevate the “wealth creators”(ie: the top corporate level ownership and management) well above the working class (ie: the rest of us). The fact that he did this with the incredible support of the labor class he was eventually weakening is amazing.
Today’s Salon has an interesting article on the relationship of the two classes and the results that legislation has made:
“The wealth creators, according to the conservative press, are constantly being threatened from above by government, which seeks to destroy wealth by taxation, and from below by workers, particularly those organized into unions, who threaten to destroy wealth by insisting that capitalists share a decent amount of their profits with employees. The entire basis of conservative “trickle-down” economics is the idea that the economy will grow faster if the supposed wealth creators keep more of the profits of private enterprise, with less going to taxes and worker compensation.
If you believe this theory, then Labor Day should be a cause for national mourning. We should all pause to mourn the loss of capital that might have gone to a fifth or a sixth mansion or a private jet, but instead was conscripted against its will to pay for a public school or higher wages in a factory.”
This is a different view of the labor/capital relationship than what was present in 1882 when Labor Day originated. According to the U.S. Dept. of Labor, the first Labor Day in the United States was celebrated on September 5, 1882 in New York City.
Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.”
But Peter McGuire’s place in Labor Day history has not gone unchallenged. Many believe that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, not Peter McGuire, founded the holiday. Recent research seems to support the contention that 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. What is clear is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic.
The importance of labor goes back even further to Lincoln’s administration. Lincoln stated in his campaign for the presidency that:
“Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not existed.”
So, you see that one of the earliest Republicans had a view of labor that differs greatly from Reagan, or Bush 1 or 2.
The Haymarket Riot in Chicago in 1886, and subsequent labor conflicts in mines and other places which brought out both police and US soldiers to battle laborers, led to the official designation of the Labor Day holiday in 1894. In a feature on the Origins of Labor Day, PBS points out that:
In the aftermath of the deaths of a number of workers at the hands of the US military and US Marshals during the 1894 Pullman Strike, President Grover Cleveland put reconciliation with Labor as a top political priority. Fearing further conflict, legislation making Labor Day a national holiday was rushed through Congress unanimously and signed into law a mere six days after the end of the strike.
Brendan Koerner, in a Slate article, says why Labor Day was set as the first Monday in September, instead of on May 1st, which had become the worker’s day in Europe:
Cleveland was also concerned that aligning a US labor holiday with existing international May Day celebrations would stir up negative emotions linked to the Haymarket Affair.
And, of course, May Day was and is associated primarily with Socialism and Communism in our country, the two “isms” which conservative administrations and current Republican competition with the existing government has made into dirty words.
So here we are at this point in time, getting a day off from work, attending parades and picnics (mine is down at Morgan Grove Park in Shepherdstown this afternoon) and no longer really celebrating the dynamics of labor that made us a successful country in the fifties, sixties and seventies. I hope you have a good one.