It’s Labor Day and most of us are not working. We’ll tell you the reason you have the day off and the story of those who sacrificed so you could sleep in.
Labor Day celebrates the American Labor movement. It became an official holiday in 1887. If you think you’re job is oppressive now, imagine what it was like before the concept of organized labor. At least we get paid in money. At some points, workers were paid with “company chit” that could only be spent at places that were conveniently owned by their employer.
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Once upon a time, workers labored as apprentices under master workers. You then became a journeyman and eventually, a master yourself. By 1815, journeymen began to outnumber masters due to migration patterns. As a result, investors began building labor intensive businesses on a big scale.
When the workers began to collude to raise wages, the practice was made illegal by the government. Commonwealth vs Hunt made collusion to raise wages a legal activity. That was the beginning of the modern labor movement.
The 20th Century is when labor really gained ground as far as wages and hours were concerned. Between 1890-1914, unionized manufacturing wages rose from $17.63 a week to $21.37 and hours fell from 54.4 a week to 48.8.
In 1933 as a response to the Great Depression, FDR instituted the National Recovery Act to protect collective bargaining rights. It created the minimum wage and regulated working hours.
Unions are increasingly under fire today. Which company is notorious for it’s poor treatment of employees? If your answer was Walmart, good answer. Walmart employees are not unionized, in fact, it is actively discouraged and people have been fired for scurrilous reasons that were really to do with trying to organize fellow workers. Would a union fix everything? No, but it would go a long way to improving worker conditions in that shit hole. Does your job offer a pension? Probably not. If you were a union member, you would have one. You would probably have health insurance superior to what you have now as well.
Fourth of July is honored as the holiday that exemplifies American sacrifice but as a Detroit girl, I think those who fought and died for the forty hour work week and a living wage are just as deserving of celebration, respect and gratitude. Remember that when you toast at your back yard barbecue.
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