By John Kubinski (MCAP co-founder)
The first Labor Day celebration was a parade in New York City, held in 1882. Over 10,000 people marched and celebrated in what the press later called “A day of the people”.
Labor unions pressed hard to make Labor Day a national holiday. In 1896, President Grover Cleveland made it official and the first Monday in September became the day this country celebrates Labor and all they have done and continue to do.
Labor Day is a celebration of workers and the contribution they make to the prosperity of The United States.
Many of today’s workers take for granted some of the accomplishments of the labor movement. They tend to forget (or have never been told) that many early union members gave their blood, sweat and some gave their lives fighting for basic dignities in the workplace. They don’t realize that there were times when strikes were met with police and military resistance that included shootings and hangings.
When a young person enters the workforce today they assume they will work 8 hours per day, 5 days per week with weekends off. They don’t realize that unions had to fight for these things.
Workers today believe that the company they work for will treat them fairly and not discriminate against them based on race, sex, age or religion. They believe they will work in a safe environment, free from sexual harassment or an abusive employer. Again, these assumptions are possible thanks to battles fought by unions.
Fair wages, overtime pay, child labor laws, collective bargaining, prevention of wage theft, the ability to strike without being fired, a minimum wage and many other things workers take for granted are all the result of union battles.
Many people question whether unions are still necessary. If you take into consideration how workers in “right to work” states are treated as well as the level of income inequality this country is experiencing the answer is obvious.
Fast food workers, as well as workers in the retail industry are being over-worked and under paid. Companies like Walmart, Target and McDonald’s are raking in billions of dollars in profits while their workers need to apply for government assistance (like the SNAP program) just to feed their families. These are people that work 40 hours per week. These workers need to organize and unionize.
The middle class in this country was at its strongest when we had a high union presence. Now, union membership is a paltry 11.3% of the workforce and our middle class currently ranks 27th in the world.
Even if you don’t belong to a union, organized labor sets the standard for how workers should be treated and compensated. Unions raise the bar for ALL workers.
Celebrate this Labor Day by realizing and honoring the Labor movement and all it has accomplished. Workers in this country need to stand together. We must not remain divided. We need to realize that the corporate interests are doing whatever they can to further their own agenda of greed and power. We must unite to prevent them from continuing the onslaught of abuse of the American worker. We need to re-strengthen unions and revitalize the labor movement. We must take a stand. We must fight back. We must unite.