It’s Not Your Grandfather’s Labor Day
Labor Day in September of 2017 is a far cry from Labor Day in 1894 when it was signed into law by then President Grover Cleveland.
There were several crippling strikes during that year that disrupted rail travel and food distribution that contributed to Labor Day becoming a national holiday.
Several states celebrated Labor Day before it became a national holiday.
America was slowly beginning to recognize the true value of labor.
The Origin Of Labor Day
The true origin of Labor Day is still being debated today. Some give the credit to Peter J. McGuire who founded the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.
He allegedly suggested it to the Central Labor Union of New York.
Still others favor another similar sounding name, namely Matthew Maguire who was secretary of the Central Labor Union and give him the credit.
Most agree it was not President Grover Cleveland who should get any credit after calling out troops and police to help quell the riots of the summer of 1894 to no avail.
He was merely the person sitting in the president’s chair at the time the legislation was passed.
Labor 1894 To 2017
A lot has happened to labor in the past 123 years since Labor Day became a national holiday.
The biggest difference is not labor itself, but what kind of labor is in demand. In the late 1800s to the mid 1900s most labor was manual labor.
Almost anyone could do it with a minimum of training and supervision.
Many of the laborers of the time were poorly educated but as long as you had a strong back you could find gainful employment.
You didn’t even have to speak English.
As a result many corporate CEOs got very wealthy on the backs of their lowly paid overworked employees.
And why not? If someone left, there were 20 more waiting to take his or her place.
All that began to change in the mid 1900s.
The New Labor Force
Five amazing things happened during that period. Flight, Telephone, Electricity, Automobile, and Radio.
All of these things demanded a higher class of worker than someone who could just do manual labor.
For the first time employers started to realize that labor was an asset not an expense.
The Wage and Hour Division was created with the enactment of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938.
By the 1950s the interstate highways system was being built.
By the 1960s we were sending men to the moon, microwave ovens, air conditioning, and computers.
The GI Bill was educating soldiers from Korea and Vietnam. Many became the first of their families to attend college.
Corporate heads were beginning to take notice. An educated workforce was a productive and profitable commodity. Turnover and training became an unneeded expense.
To attract better employees wages increased, perks were added like healthcare and vacation time, sick leave and better hours.
About the only place manual labor can be found in today’s workplace is construction, retail and fast food.
Some Final Thoughts
Labor is no longer considered an expense to most businesses. It’s the very product that produces income for that business.
Every business wants the best workers they can get with the resources available to keep them. Retail margins are low so turnover is high in that industry due to lower compensation.
Welders on the other hand are well compensated and are rarely out of work for long.
Learned skills and experience give workers an opportunity to move up the income ladder much more rapidly than their 1894 counterparts.
I for one am glad we have a day to recognize the value of labor and those who perform it.
Without it we’d still be in the Middle Ages driving our horses and buggies to work. If you’re out today buying things take a moment thank someone for his or her hard work and help with your purchases.
How tough would your shopping trip be without them?