It’s Time to Break It Down!
(This post appeared originally in this space on August 31, 2011. It was re-purposed and presented again September 3, 2014, September 7, 2016, September 6, 2017, September 5, 2018, September 4, 2019, and once again today, September 9, 2020)
As you know, Monday was Labor Day. As with most holidays, I knock it down a few notches so readers can enjoy their time off, and ease into a vintage post, if they so choose. At its core, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, Labor Day in the United States was designed to commemorate the creation of the labor movement; dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. The holiday focuses on contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country.
First observed in September 1882, the event has always been observed on the first Monday of the month. Initiated by the Central Labor Union of New York, the celebration became a federal holiday in 1894.
In addition to its formal structure and purpose, Labor Day has a number of symbolic associations. It is considered:
The unofficial “End of Summer”
The last 3-Day warm weather weekend for vacationers
By High Society standards, the last day for which it is appropriate for women to wear white
The beginning of the College Football Season (Maybe)
The start of the NFL Season (Hopefully))
The conventional kick-off of hard-core political campaign season
Back–to-School shopping (Eh, well, sort of)
Labor Day also validates and recognizes an often-controversial mechanism that frequently divides American opinion; labor unions. Scorned by many who fancy themselves as Free Enterprise Capitalists, unions and their members have not only been actively involved historically, in debates that framed public policy for American workers, they have won or forced hard-earned concessions that in the shimmering glow of reflective perspective, must be considered to have fundamentally altered the playing field (known as the workplace), including:
Health Care Benefits
Equal Pay to women
The Development of Child Labor Laws
The 5-Day Work Week
The 40-Hour Work Week
Worker’s Compensation benefits
Female Flight Attendants permitted to marry
These and many other important cherished and effective employee rights are attributable to the efforts of the American Labor Movement. But, this is not an ode to Labor Unions. Unions also have downsides. They create or contribute to:
The potential for strikes
Additional costs to all employees (membership dues; whether a member or not)
Loss of individuality (ability to represent one’s self in a grievance)
Subject to fines & discipline by the Union
Disincentives to productivity and competition
Lack of promotions
Burdensome salary demands (relative to the market)
Loss of profits (and/or pay) due to strike
Inefficient & ineffective contracts
Increased unemployment due to failure to reach agreement w/management
The first Labor Day celebration was led by a Labor Union. The history of the Day has been linked, inextricably, with Labor organizations, ever since. But if it is the American Worker the Day was intended to commemorate.
The political convention season, largely virtual for the first time ever, is behind us, and there are 55 days until what many people will assert is the most important election of our collective lifetimes. We are confronted with many issues, but for most of us, no matter which side of the political spectrum we fall, few are more critical than who will be elected to carry the mantle of the presidency effective January 20, 2021. You already know the incumbent team, as well as the contenders. But that is not fodder for today. In due time, I’ll address the race.
Meanwhile, contemplate “Labor Day: It’s All About The Workers Redux ’20,” and while we’ve got plenty of issues to temper our celebration, we should indeed celebrate America’s phenomenal Labor Movement. I’m done; holla back!
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