In this day of living in the moment, I would not be surprised if a lot of folks don’t know the meaning of Labor Day. Yes, it’s a day off; yes, it marks the end of summer, but the true significance of Labor Day is paying tribute to working men and women, past and present.
Briefly, Labor Day has been celebrated as a national holiday since 1894. Although 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 occurred Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City.
I’d like to talk a little about the Labor Movement itself, especially in light of living in a “right to work” state. The labor movement grew out of 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.
What follows is an excerpt of President Obama’s 2009 Labor Day speech in Cincinnati, Ohio. His words sum 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.
Happy Labor Day!