THE RELAXING WEEKEND
This year, Labor Day falls on the 7th of September, a day every American looks forward to. It is a long, three-day weekend that marks the end of fun days in summer and the onset of autumn. Everyone would love to be out there taking in those lasts wisps of summer breeze and sunshine. This makes it a day of picnics, a day at the beach, fairs, and parades or simply enjoying a barbecue in your own backyard. As children get set to go back to a new term and adults prepare for a hectic schedule balancing the home and work scene, it is an excellent opportunity for us to step away from work and business and spend quality time with family and reconnect with loved ones. However amid all the relaxation and celebration let us not forget how this long weekend came into existence and what is the real significance of it.
THE IMPORTANCE OF LABOR DAY
Labor Day is a day to celebrate the work force of America, the ones who keep the home fires burning by their relentless labor, day in day out. It is an opportunity to recognize their valuable contribution to the nation in terms of its prosperity and economy. It gives us the chance to show our gratitude to them for their grit, dedication, ingenuity and strength, all which contributes to making America such a great nation. As the Department of Labor rightly puts it – “The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate therefore that the nation pay tribute on Labor day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength freedom and leadership- THE AMERICAN WORKER.”
HOW DID THIS DAY COME ABOUT?
The Industrial Revolution modernized the United States and Canada during the 19Th century. As people enjoyed steady employment, they compromised their rights in the workplace. Longer work hours and pay cuts were imposed. U.S labor groups began to protect themselves by forming unions.
In Canada, unions were illegal until 1872 when thousands of automobile laborers marched to the Prime Minister, John Mac Donald’s home. That year, Canada wiped the entire Union law from its books and the march became an annual tradition.
In 1882, Toronto labor officials invited an American Union leader, Peter. J. McGuire to Toronto’s celebrations. McGuire was so impressed that he suggested a workers parade to New York City’s Central Labor Union. He chose September 5th as the date because it filled the long void between July 4th and Thanksgiving.
That same year, coincidentally, a machinist from Patterson, New Jersey Mathew Macguire also proposed a Labor Day celebration.
Oregon became the first state to legalize the Labor Day holiday in 1887 and other states including new York soon followed.
It took a political disaster in 1884 to put Labor Day on the National calendar. A strike to protest against wage cuts in Pullman, Illinois turned violent when President Grover Cleveland sent Federal Troops to break the strike. To appease the nation’s workers, he signed a Bill to make Labor Day a federal holiday.
DOES THE LABOR COMMUNITY ACTUALLY CELEBRATE LABOR DAY?
To this day, there is still a parade in New York City and other cities across the country. However, as Unions keep decreasing, the challenges faced by workers for more than a century ago are still being met today.
There is a growing movement for a higher wage in the fast food industry or by overworked technical and finance employees calling for better hours. Working overtime and not getting paid for it is another issue.
According to Jonathan Culler, an Associate Professor of Sociology at Wesleyan, the America white collar professional works 10 hours a day including many weekends and they have fewer paid vacation days than any other white collar professional around the world.
Half of all Americans now make less than $15 an hour. Of the fastest growing jobs in America, 8 are service-sector jobs that pay 15$ an hour or less Across the nation adjunct professors, airport workers, security officers, hospital workers, Walmart workers and other service sector workers are raising their voices for higher wages to get the economy rolling again.
According to a survey done by Oxfam America, at least ¼ of American workers are in low-wage jobs, and nearly 40% of US families have incomes below 200% of the poverty level. They average almost 40 hours a week and many work at more than one job. The future does not look good for these workers who are unable to get ahead or invest in their children’s future.
ALL IS NOT LOST
The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that the total number of Unions fell by 444,000 last year, to 14.3 million, even though the overall employment rose by 2.4 million. New laws that curb the power of unions in Wisconsin, Indiana and other states, expansion of manufacturing units in nonunion states and the growth of sectors like the retail and restaurant which have very few unions, were some of the reasons cited by labor specialists according to New York Times.
All is not lost.
The vision of OURWALMART ( Organization United For Respect at Walmart) is a strong indicator that Unions are still needed to speak up for a workers rights Their vision is a future of respect and dignity in the company. Their mission is to ensure that every Associate (worker), regardless of his or her title, age, race or sex is respected at Walmart and strength and solidarity is offered in addressing challenges that arise in the workplace. They protest against low wages, skimpy benefits, erratic work schedules and aggressive management suppression at work.
Temporary Workers Of America (TWA) is a newly created union that represents people working full time for Microsoft App Certification Lab via a contractor, Lionbridge Technologies. The Union was formed because employees were refused paid leave, even on Memorial day and classified as temporary despite the fact that they have been working full time in the company for years.
THE BRIGHTER SIDE
The U.S economy added 223,000 jobs, close to what was expected and the unemployment rate fell again to 5.3%.
On June 30th, 2015, the U.S Department of Labor issued a proposal that would raise the overtime threshold. This means that salaried workers who earn below the threshold must be paid time and a half for each hour work beyond 40hours a week. This means that people will be compensated fairly.
More businesses are increasing their expenditure on benefits such as on-line bonuses, health care and paid time off according to a recent survey.
On this Labor Day let us contemplate on these thoughts of Albert Einstein,
“A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depends on the labors of other men, living or dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.”
Happy Labor Day to everyone who contributes in the window dressing industry to the beauty and aesthetics of our homes and to millions of American workers who are upholding the idea of an American Dream.