Ready to prepare your traditional Labor Day turkey, put up the tree and exchange Labor Day gifts? What the heck kind of holiday is Labor Day, anyway?
And who cares?
You should. Because without the protections celebrated by Labor Day, you’d be working 100 hours a week and required to wash your boss’ feet and clip his or her toenails.
OK, maybe not quite that bad. But close.
Before labor unions, the average American worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day, without such luxuries as bathroom breaks. If you had a serious accident or got sick, you could be fired on the spot, with no compensation or even a goodbye cupcake. Next victim! To make matters worse, children were forced to work backbreaking jobs as well, for a fraction of adult wages and with precious few protections.
Sounds like a nightmare, right? Unfortunately, that was life until the late 1800s, when labor organizer Peter McGuire pushed for workers’ rights and also suggested a day to honor American workers, and things began to change for the better. Others believe machinist and unionist Matthew McGuire (no relation) founded Labor Day, first celebrated as a legal holiday in 1894.
Anyway, you can thank somebody named McGuire, as well as the men and women who marched, got their heads cracked open and sometimes died fighting for decent working conditions. Those who demonize unions today are clueless to the debt we owe them, including sick days, vacation days and health care coverage.
Unfortunately, we are in danger of losing many of these rights and protections. Since 1983, U.S. union membership has been virtually cut in half, from 20.1 percent in 1983 to just 10.5 percent in 2018, and middle-class wages have stagnated.
Some unscrupulous employers buy politicians via hefty campaign contributions to erase protections from the books. The current administration is rolling back regulations that protect workers’ safety and wages.
While Labor Day may have some negative associations, such as the unofficial end of summer and the start of school, it also symbolizes hard-earned victories for American workers, rights that we shouldn’t take for granted.
So as you barbecue or just veg out this three-day weekend, let’s all keep that in mind. Happy Labor Day!
Follow playwright Mike Vogel at @mikewrite7.