Labor Day is a creation of the labor movement dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It’s a yearly tribute to the contributions workers have made to the economic strength and defense of our country.
During the peak of the Industrial Revolution, work conditions were pretty grim. Twelve-hour days, seven-day work weeks, kids operating machinery no kid ever should, and generally exploitative situations for all but the employers themselves.
Historians disagree about who to attribute the concept of Labor Day to but suffice to say it took years of organizing, and surely a lot of pain and suffering, for employees to band together and demand and win basic protections. It’s also worth noting that our constitutional rights, and the very spirit they were written in, are what allowed these brave people to organize in the first place, making Labor Day a uniquely American holiday.
This introduced a period of unparalleled expansion of equality and the birth of the middle class. This period also saw two World Wars fought primarily by laborers and tooled by a united and eager labor force, on all sides. To be sure, there were also employers who made sacrifices, willingly and otherwise, to fund those wars, and some who profited significantly from them as well.
Years later, technology advanced and afforded employers the ability to transfer labor costs to other, less organized countries. American worker incomes stagnated, that new middle class came under pressure, and with the aid of our own government, American Corporate interests made foreign workers in those emerging countries the exploited.
The perception of Labor Day, and that of organized labor itself, has changed over the years. The causes of those changes are too many and complex to cover in a simple personal finance blog like this, so I won’t try. Rather, I’ll close with a quote from The Department of Labor itself;
“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 pays tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.”
Have a safe, relaxing, and enjoyable Labor Day weekend all.