Thanks to labor…

As we observe Labor Day today it is important that we remember the contributions of organized labor to our culture, history, and working conditions.

Labor Day is a United States federal holiday that takes place on the first Monday in September. The holiday began in 1882, originating from a desire by the Central Labor Union to create a day off for the “working man”. It is still celebrated mainly as a day of rest and marks the symbolic end of summer for many. Labor Day became a federal holiday by Act of Congress in 1894.

There are however many things other than a national holiday that we can thank labor for.  Sick days and vacation days started as benefits negotiated in labor contracts; as was the 40 hour work week, overtime pay, meal breaks, rest breaks, health care benefits, workplace safety and a living wage.

Consider this from Jack Metzgar’s book Striking Steel (h/t MissLaura at Daily Kos Unions Matter )

Striking Steel
Solidarity Remembered
Temple University Press, 2000

The labor union is an underappreciated and easily misunderstood institution.  It’s underappreciated first because American culture depreciates all institutions as “bureaucracies” that stifle the natural goodness and spontaneous vitality of both “the individual” and that collected mass of individuals we call “the people.”  But of all of our institutions, none (with the exception of the armed forces) goes against the grain of our radical individualism like the union — not just in its practice, but in its beliefs.  Most people have little or no direct experience as a union member, and even members, particularly those who have to join the union as a condition of employment, have little to do with the union unless or until they have trouble.  Most union members probably appreciate their union, if they do, like they appreciate the sewer system — they’re glad it’s there, but they neither understand how it works nor are cognizant that it works until it malfunctions.  Only those who directly experience the before and after of the union can properly appreciate it for what it is and what it does.

From the AFL-CIO, what are the concrete benefits of union jobs?

Unions matter.  They matter in pay, in health and safety, in dignity.  This Labor Day we need to be recommitting to fight for unions and what they bring to workers everywhere.