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Workers of The World UNITE!
Yes, I'm walking a fine line with that title or even writing about Labor Day or workers' movements at all. So, let's take a step back, strip away the politics and economic theory, and talk about this from a human standpoint.
Peter McGuire was born in New York in the 1850s to a poor family and grew up doing odd jobs to make ends meet. By the age of 21, Peter was a political activist and agitator, looking to improve working conditions and benefits and increase labor organization and political influence in the workplace.
Peter was a socialist in a time when being a socialist wasn't seen as a negative thing like it is today (at least by many). In the late 1800s, the push was for better working conditions, paid time off, and an 8-hour workday. It was the 1800s' equivalent to the $15.00/hr minimum wage that is often discussed today; it seemed like heresy to some and a utopia to others. However, in the mind of Peter and many like him, it was the ticket to a better life for many stuck in poverty.
In the spring of 1882, a young Peter made the suggestion for a holiday and street parade that celebrated workers and helped bring attention to the labor movement growing in America.
By 1894, Labor Day was an official holiday in the US. It was celebrated widely around as an homage to the labor movement and better working conditions, wages, and benefits for workers.
Fast-forward to today
Much has changed since 1882, and much has stayed the same. Just like in that time, large corporations and banks hold a lot of power and influence over the economy and political system. A few industries have a lot of impact on our everyday lives, such as pharmaceuticals, oil, and manufacturing.
On the other hand, we have greater access to information, and abuses are easier to make public than before. There is greater awareness of the rights of women, minorities, and the disabled in the workplace.
We are more aware of other and possibly better opportunities within our trades and jobs or even in switching careers.
Technology and outsourcing have changed the labor landscape in a positive way for some and to the detriment of others.
No matter what your politics are or how you feel about Peter, Labor Day, or the state of the American worker, I think we can all agree on this:
I definitely lean to the right politically, but I can still appreciate the work done by people like Peter to put the focus on the worker and the importance of good working conditions and pay for American workers (and all workers for that matter). Some would call this a basic human right; I would turn it around and call it a hallmark of a healthy society and something that is always worth working towards.
In a strong and free society, we all work hard looking to carve out the best lives for our families. We stand up for the weak and disadvantaged. We support and choose to work for good businesses that pay well and provide great opportunities. These businesses thrive while the ones that don't provide opportunities, well, don't thrive. We don't think that simply “showing up” is what matters; we understand that it's what we produce that makes us valuable.
When we do these things, we build a better country and world, and I'm thankful today that I know so many of you that live this way day in and day out.
Happy Labor Day!