I think about Labor Day and a lot of different thoughts go through my mind.
What’s the origin of the holiday in this country? “Beginning in the late 19th century, as the trade union and labor movements grew, trade unionists proposed that a day be set aside to celebrate labor, ” according to Wikipedia.
What, if any, is our U.S. Labor Day’s association with International Worker’s Day on May 1st? Turns out that “May Day” is linked to an ancient traditional festival time in Europe, and similar labor movements in that region selected that date to also associate with honoring and further the cause of workers. That occurred around the same time in Europe that it did here in the U.S.
I think about the early 20th century novel, “The Jungle,” and the fictional account of very real working conditions in the meat packing industry in the northeastern U.S. around that same time period.
How far have we come with regulations and minimum wages in that time, to give rank and file workers safer conditions and enough income to live a reasonable life? Lots of data, some objective results, but plenty of subjective opinion on those topics to be had, for sure.
Then I consider the hardest, most physically demanding jobs and who does that work. Think about the people that work in extreme physical conditions, so that others might benefit from seasonal produce or the freshest catch. How difficult is that work? How much do those folks make? Would I want to do that work?
I think about people I know that do white collar work and make good income; some are associated with organized labor, some are not. I consider the various aspects of work today, and the manner in which plenty of white collar, high-skill workers also can be exploited and might benefit from organizing.
Throughout the world we can say that collective bargaining has been good for workers in the industrialized world over the last one hundred and forty-odd years. We can also say that wages have increased, working conditions have improved, and society on the whole enjoys a higher standard of living along that same period of time.
Sure there’s still more work to do. But I’ll spare you the red star or the fist clenched in the air. We have to say that the owners and the governments and society in many countries have supported the workers’ cause, to everyone’s benefit.
In my humble view, Labor Day should be a day when we remember and appreciate all those workers, of all shapes and sizes and trades, all the rank and file whole make our economy churn. Those that, through there hard work, make our country a better place to live.
We should appreciate, and honor labor, on Labor Day, and everyday.