The Labor Day holiday has been with us for quite a while. A machinist, Matthew Maguire, first proposed it in 1882 when he was Secretary of the Central Labor Union. Credit is also sometimes given to Peter J. McGuire of the American Federation of Labor in the same year. He claims to have gotten the idea from a labor festival he attended in Toronto, Canada.

In 1887, Oregon became the first state in the union to make it a state holiday. If became a national holiday in 1894, following a number of deaths of Pullman Workers who were striking and were shot by U.S. Military and U.S. Marshals. Grover Cleveland signed it into law six days after the Pullman Strike ended.

Labor Unions

The heyday of the union movement is usually bracketed between 1900 and the 1970’s. There is no question of the value that labor unions provided to workers in America. Overtime pay, working hours and conditions, safety in the workplace, sick leave, maternity leave, unemployment insurance, collective bargaining, retirement plans and a host of other benefits. I believe an argument could be made that these changes would have all been made eventually but the speed of their implementation was probably faster due to the union movement.

We now have OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), Wage and Hour Laws, EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board), to name a few.

The unintended consequences of these laws, is the migration of labor unions out of the private sector, and into the public sector. For the first time in American history there are more union workers in the government than there are in the private sector.

What Is Labor?

Labor has many definitions. For some it’s unions, for others it’s a celebration of their own efforts to finance their goals and dreams, to still others it’s the investment of both time and money to build their own business. A common phrase among business owners, “It’s a Labor of Love.”

To me, labor means freedom. Thanks to the constitution of the United States I can pursue any legal endeavor I choose. I have the freedom to succeed as well as the freedom to fail. There is more help to succeed in the United States of America than any other place on earth.

Labor is often confused with physical work. Work hard and you’ll succeed. What is the definition of hard work? Does the CEO, of a major corporation, with thousands of workers dependent on each decision, work hard? Does the farmer, tilling the field, work hard? Does the average housewife work hard? Does a CPA, rushing to complete a stack of tax returns before April 15th, work hard?

As you can see labor and work aren’t always synonymous. We all have our personal definitions of what labor is to each of us. So enjoy your freedom; labor away.