Although Labor Day is synonymous with the end of summer, its true significance is to honor the contributions and resilience of American workers.
Labor Day has been celebrated as a national holiday since 1894. While there is some speculation as to who exactly came up with the idea, most historians credit Peter McGuire, cofounder of the American Federation of Labor. Its date, the first Monday in September, was chosen because it was halfway between Independence Day and Thanksgiving. The first Labor Day parade took place on September 5, 1882, in New York City.
Organized Labor Unions – Fighting to Protect Workers
The labor movement sprang from the need to protect the common interest of workers. Organized labor unions fought for better wages, reasonable hours and safer working conditions. It efforts led to stop child labor, give health benefits and provide aid to workers who were injured or retired.
The rights and benefits we enjoy today were not simply handed out to America’s working men and women. They were fought for by men and women of courage and conviction, from the factory floors of the Industrial Revolution to the shopping aisles of today’s superstores. These brave workers stood up and spoke out to demand a fair shake; an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. Many risked their lives; some gave their lives.
Florida AFL-CIO – Florida’s Unions
Today, the Florida AFL-CIO represents over 500 local labor unions, 10 councils, and over one million union members, retirees, and their families in the state.
These unions play a pivotal role both in securing legislated labor protections and rights such as safety and health, overtime, and family/medical leave and in enforcing those rights on the job. Because unionized workers are more informed, they are more likely to benefit from social insurance programs such as unemployment insurance and workers compensation.
In a Gallup article titled, Labor Union Approval Best Since 2003, at 61% (8.30.2017) (www.news.gallup.com) unions have regained popularity since bottoming out in 2009. That survey marked the first and only time in Gallup’s trend dating back to 1936 that support for unions was below 50%.
St. Petersburg, FL – Plan
As the city continues to grow, there is a huge need for skilled construction/trades workers. Currently, St. Petersburg’s local hiring program focuses on contractors doing city projects that cost more than $500,000. If those companies meet the city’s hiring goals, they stand to be paid a larger percentage of the money that the city typically retains until the project is 25, 50 and 99 percent complete.
To get the money, contractors have to make sure that 30 percent of the labor on city projects are new hires from Pinellas County. Of those, one-third need to be apprentices. Since St. Petersburg launched its program, a dozen contractors have won city contracts totaling more than $20.8 million, according to a report to the City Council last November.
Songs of the Labor Movement
Songs of the American labor movement over the 20th century voiced grievances, affirmed the value of the worker to society, and expressed hope for life in a more just world. Classic Labor Songs from Smithsonian Folkways is a collage of these voices – champions of the movement, singing songs with a passion and love for their fellow workers that rings just as true today as it did then. Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Joe Glazer, the Almanac Singers, and more chronicle the history of the American labor movement in stirring song. (www.folkways.si.edu)
Labor Movement Legacy
In 2009 former President Obama gave a Labor Day speech in Cincinnati, Ohio. Here is an excerpt that sums up what Labor Day is all about and why we need to remember what the Labor Movement did for us.
Now, like a lot of Americans, you’re having some fun today. Taking the day off. Spending time with the kids. Enjoying some good music and good food-some famous Cincinnati chili. But today we also pause. To remember. To reflect. To reaffirm.
We remember that the rights and benefits we enjoy today were not simply handed out to America’s working men and women. They had to be won.
They had to be fought for, by men and women of courage and conviction, from the factory floors of the Industrial Revolution to the shopping aisles of today’s superstores. They stood up and spoke out to demand a fair shake; an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. Many risked their lives. Some gave their lives.
So let us never forget: much of what we take for granted-the 40-hour work week, the minimum wage, health insurance, paid leave, pensions, Social Security, Medicare-they all bear the union label. It was the American worker-union men and women-who returned from World War II to make our economy the envy of the world. It was labor that helped build the largest middle class in history. So even if you’re not a union member, every American owes something to America’s labor movement.
How Do You Celebrate Labor Day?
While many of us still turn out to hear Labor Day speeches and attend parades, the focus of the American worker has turned more to celebrating a day off with family. However you decide to celebrate Labor Day, have fun and take some time away from work to catch up with your family.
Working: People Talk about What They Do All Day and How They Feel about What They Do, by Studs Terkel
The Only Thing that Can Save Us: Why America Needs a New Kind of Labor Movement, by Thomas Geoghegan
The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights, by William P. Jones
Sweat and Blood: A History of U.S. Labor Unions (People’s History), by Gloria Skurzynski