I start all Labor Day posts with a shout out to my Gramma Lenke, member of the ILGWU from sometime in the 1920’s until she passed away in 2005. She was the longest dues-paying member of the union, yup, until the day she died. Lenke believed in unions, and knew about before and after…
Labor Day became a Federal holiday in 1894, and was enacted to honour the contributions of workers. The holiday is celebrated in the United States on the first Monday in September, and also serves as the unofficial end of summer. For political junkies, it also kicks election season into high gear.
It was a hard slog for the formation of unions after the Industrial Revolution, and a lot of the things you may well take for granted today came out of the union/worker movement. To wit:
- 8-hour work days
- 5-day work weeks
- Child Labor Laws (no more young kids falling into vats and dying)
- Doors that open, so people weren’t trapped and locked-in when there was a fire
- Fresh air in work locations
These most basic of wins didn’t come easy: strikes and scab workers. Murders and deaths of participants. In this era of fighting for more rights, we forget (or may never have known) what things were like. Lenke told stories of women giving birth on the floor of the factory, with other women being hit with sticks to get back to their sewing machines when they tried to help, and then the new mother was given the choice of going back to work or being fired. Bathroom breaks? Forget about it. If you want a different take on the horrors of what “work” used to be, check out Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.
The list of wins is long and storied, and actually starts in Jamestown, back in the 1600’s. One of the longest labor fights lasted from 1967 to 1984: it was the case of stewardesses who wanted to keep their jobs AND be married. (Full details here). Now, there is the “Fight of 15”, which was just won at Disney World, which will raise all boats in Orlando.
Most of you reading this article either are workers, or are retired workers. Potentially, you are a future worker because you’re old enough to read, but not yet old enough to work. Point is, most of us work for a living. Some jobs are easier than others, and some people are still struggling to get back to where they were before the “Great Recession”. But no matter what your job, it is better than it used to be. Rare are beatings, and rapes, and murders that used to be a regular part of working. Many people (not enough, but many) have things like paid holidays and health insurance and 401(k)s and other benefits. All of this was earned for us by those who fought valiantly over hundreds of years in America.
So honor these folks today: those who have passed on, and those who are still fighting.
Happy Labor Day!
(Reprinted with permission from Democratic Convention Watch. @2018, All Rights Reserved)