If you want to observe Labor Day in a way that is consistent with the labor movement, make a plan to establish a livable wage for all full-time workers, along with safe working conditions. That’s what the labor movements have been about in the US. You can also thank the Labor Movement for the 40-hour work week, weekends, workers comp, health care benefits, and child labor laws.
Labor Day means barbecue for many of us, but it is a day to give thanks for the dignity of labor, and to remember the rights of workers, who historically have been exploited by management and owners. If we’ve learned anything over the years, it is that corporations tend to act in their financial best interests, even to the detriment of people, unless those people stand up.
In the 1700s it was common to use children for labor in England and the US. industrialization brought a rapid increase in child employment. The Anglican church, and the Quakers were heavily involved abolishing child labor. A series of child labor laws in the 1800s slowly improve this. The English act of 1833 limited the hours of children under the age of 18.
The labor movement had to lobby for safe working conditions. With an ample supply of workers, upper management was relatively on concerned about dangerous working practices and conditions. Safety measures, including sanitation and ventilation were expensive, and cut into profits.
Long working hours were also abusive to laborers. The typical 12 or 13-hour days led to fatigue, health issues and safety concerns, especially when working machinery. In 1806, in New York City, the movement fought to change the required workday for shipbuilders to 10 hours, but management fought back. It often lakes laws to get corporations to do the right thing if it affects the bottom line. Legislation would take decades. It wouldn’t be until 1940 that President Van Buren would issue an executive order normalizing the 10-hour work day. The 8-hour workday would come much later.
If an employee is hurt on the job, who pays for the medical care? Where does liability rest? Does the employee receive wages during recovery? All these were battles that had to be fought when corporations refused to cover these expenses. Laws have to be enacted, and fines set to give them teeth.
Often those who fight for these rights would be fired outright. anyone who tried to organize would be fired. Workers are not allowed to even discuss unions. Often, it takes workers striking, picketing and forcing management’s hand to get even the most basic rights.
Migrant workers are some of the most exploited laborers in the U.S. Dolores Huerta and César Chavez led the farm workers’ labor movement. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for this civil rights work. Watch a movie about Dolores on Amazon Prime Video. She was 90 years old in the photo below, when I met her a few years ago.
People have the right to safe working conditions and reasonable hours, no matter what their skill, education of income level. Exploiting workers is immoral. It’s always been a problem, going back to the Old Testament, as the story of the Israelites in Egypt attests. And we are still doing it today.
Labor Day is a day to honor all workers, to give thanks for the freedom to assemble and to celebrate conscientious labor laws. As we navigate “The Great Resignation,” we might reflect on low wages, high cost of living, and inadequate health care. In the mean time, if you like having a weekend, thank the labor movement.
You must not exploit a foreign resident or oppress him, since you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.
You shall not exploit your neighbor, and you shall not rob [him]; a hired worker’s wage you shall not [withhold] overnight until morning.
“I will come to you in judgment. I will be quick to testify against those who practice divination, those who commit adultery, those who break promises, and those who exploit workers, widows, and orphans, who refuse to help the immigrant and in this way show they do not fear me,” says the Lord who rules over all.
Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.