Labor Day’s True Meaning: When Workers Organize, We All Benefit

Take a few minutes during that barbecue, or while reading, or while catching up on TV shows, or whatever you plan to do on your day off, to remember that Labor Day was not created as just another vacation day for white-collar workers. In fact, there are many people who do work on Labor Day. But this day was created to recognize organized labor, and the labor movement that made it possible for people to form unions. And those unions are responsible for giving us the 40-hour work week, better working conditions, the weekend, and better pay. Even if you never belonged to a union, the effect unions have on the job marketplace has helped us all – a rising tide lifts all boats.

I don’t know why some in this country show such contempt for unions and organized labor. It’s almost as if people are acting out in a vicious rage of jealousy because they don’t have the “perks” of union membership. But those “perks” are simply measures to protect workers against powerful corporations. If you are working an office job, making a decent living, it might be hard to think that we could lose “perks” like a 2-day weekend and vacation time, but these things are not written in stone. If you support Republican union-busting measures, and if they are successful in completely killing off organized labor, you might be surprised how much the American workplace can change. It already has, just ask Walmart workers, many of whom are stuck in a low-pay cycle, requiring government assistance like food stamps just to get by.

So instead of contempt, try to recognize that when unions were once a much stronger force in America, the wages of non-union jobs increased lockstep with union jobs. And if you think your pay and benefits are unfair, there’s nothing stopping you and your co-workers from organizing, except those Republican lawmakers you supported in the last election.

Labor Day was not intended as a vacation from thought. While it is a day off for many, we should remember Labor Day was created to remember the struggles of organized labor in America, and anyone who wants to tell you different is a participant in revisionist history.

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