Good day, team,
Today is Labor Day, and it’s a day of rest for many of us, a day to reflect on the fruits of our labors. As we move from summer to Indian summer, the cornucopia of life appears on our dining tables in the form of fresh fruit, corn, vegetables, fish, etc. It’s a wonderful time to see how we reap what we sow.
This particular holiday weekend is one of the results of organized labor in this country. Many of us don’t realize what organized labor has done for us over the years: Holiday weekends, minimum wage, health benefits, a guarantee of certain labor practices that protect employees, even weekends are a result of what organized labor has put into place for the American worker.
I grew up in a family that thought organized labor was a bad thing, and I heard many negative stories about labor leaders and the effect unions had on companies. As a consequence, I don’t know very much about unions, and so today I decided to do some research about it. I was amazed to find that much of what I took for granted as common practice in most companies had something to do with organized labor’s attempts to improve conditions for workers.
Here are a few things I learned about Labor Day:
“The holiday originated in Canada out of labor disputes (“Nine-Hour Movement”) first in Hamilton, then in Toronto, Canada, in the 1870s, which resulted in a Trade Union Act which legalized and protected union activity in 1872 in Canada. The parades held in support of the Nine-Hour Movement and the printers’ strike led to an annual celebration in Canada. In 1882, American labor leader Peter J. McGuire witnessed one of these labor festivals in Toronto. Inspired from Canadian events in Toronto, he returned to New York and organized the first American Labor Day on September 5 of the same year.
“The first Labor Day in the United States was celebrated on September 5, 1882, in New York City. In the aftermath of the deaths of a number of workers at the hands of the U.S. military and U.S. 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. Cleveland was also concerned that aligning a U.S. labor holiday with existing international May Day celebrations would stir up negative emotions linked to the Haymarket Affair. All 50 U.S. states have made Labor Day a state holiday.”
Upon reading this background, I did further research into the Haymarket Affair and the Pullman Strike. I discovered that, over the years, many people have died trying to defend the rights of workers in our country and that the struggle to create good working conditions for people has not been without great strife and hardship. I now have a better understanding that much of what I take for granted in the workplace didn’t always exist and that those who came before me had to fight and die to increase the rights of the American worker.
This week’s challenge is to find one thing in your work environment that you take for granted and rekindle an appreciation for it. Perhaps you or your child goes to the doctor and the receptionist tells you that your cost for the doctor’s visit is a $10 co-pay; without your company’s health benefits, that visit could have cost you $150. Maybe you have to care for an aging parent and the Family Medical Leave Act allows you to do that while still retaining the right to return to your job. Recently, I found out that a friend of mine is going to take further advanced education courses that her employer is reimbursing her for so she is more qualified for her next promotion. The next time you work more than 40 hours in a week, pay close attention to your overtime pay, if you are an hourly worker. Or walk into your lunch room, cafeteria or break room: Is coffee and tea available for free there?
These benefits may seem like small things, but we live in a world where many other countries have no labor laws at all, and people, including children, work seven days a week for pennies with no one to protect their human rights. Be grateful this week for your current employment situation. It’s easy to complain about working conditions, but when you stop to consider that we work in relatively safe circumstances with people who get paid to care about our general welfare, it’s worth stopping for a moment to appreciate our good fortune.
I find the words of Abraham Lincoln best express this appreciation:
“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if Labor had not first existed. Labor is superior to capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”
Have a good week!
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