This year happens to be the 125th anniversary of the creation of Labor Day as a national holiday.
It began in 1894 to celebrate the contributions everyday workers make to the success of the United States.
By the time President Grover Cleveland made it a law, 30 states had been celebrating the holiday for up to a dozen years. The first Labor Day parade happened on Sept. 5, 1882 in New York City.
There is some debate about who came up with the idea first, but P.J. McGuire, then the vice president of the American Federation of Labor, maintained he made the initial proposal for the holiday as a “general holiday for the laboring classes.”
I can’t argue with part of McGuire’s logic. He suggested the celebration be held on the first Monday of September “as an ideal date for such a public celebration, owing to the optimum weather and the date’s place on the calendar, sitting midway between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving.”
Today, Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer, although that isn’t so true any more, since school starts weeks before in August. It used to be a time for a last hurrah before the kids went back to school.
Last week, the CEOs of 200 (or so) companies signed an open letter pledging to be more responsible and not just worried about their bottom lines and profit. I hope that’s true and even more companies follow suit. Of course, there are loads of companies that are already responsible places to work.
A lot has been said (and more could be said) about problems with the labor movement. But many of the benefits and working conditions we all take for granted today came out of the strikes and protests organized by labor unions. The 40-hour work week, paid vacation, health benefits and safer working conditions are but a few.
If all employers were responsible partners who looked after the safety of their employees and the people they serve, we wouldn’t need labor movements. But there are still companies who declare bankruptcy, leaving their employees without back pay, benefits or retirement (or suffering from black lung).
Or companies who are so lackluster about their own operations that they spill chemicals into the water supply for hundreds of thousands of people.
Granted, that isn’t an example of poor labor practices, but reflects the lack of concern demonstrated by a company.
Profit is important for any company. Tech companies aside, most companies don’t open to lose money. But maybe, just maybe, some companies are seeing that they have a greater responsibility to serve their customers, protect the environment and take care of their employees. That would definitely be a reason to celebrate.
Happy Labor Day weekend!