A Labor Day Salute to You — the American Worker

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Unlike virtually every other holiday our nation celebrates, Labor Day isn’t about any single American, religious event or group of heroes.

Labor Day is about all of us.

It’s a celebration of, for and by the people who made America the most prosperous nation on Earth: American workers and the families who support them. We’ve got a lot to be proud of.

Here is a brief history of how the holiday began, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Labor’s website:

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, 1883.

In 1884, the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a “workingmen’s holiday” on that date.

The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and by 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country. By 1894, 23 states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers, and on June 28 of that year Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.

Today, as you prepare to relax and say goodbye to summer with one last cookout, consider what the American worker — you, me, our parents, grandparents and many before them — created in this country.

Just 150 years ago, people purchased other people at auction. Even children worked long hours for miserly wages in often dangerous conditions. The wealth of our nation was concentrated in the hands of the few, while the masses had little opportunity to improve their lot in life.

But through collective bargaining and the awesome power of the vote, individual people — people just like you and me — turned a nearly feudal society into one that placed the power where it belonged: into the hands of those who did the work.

Today, times remain tough. Worries are high and optimism is low. But without the safeguards and protections American citizens have put in place, times would be a lot worse.

Over the years, we’ve enacted myriad protections to preserve worker health, safety and prosperity. We have:

  • Laws to protect us from unsafe working conditions.
  • Laws requiring equal pay for equal work.
  • Laws that prohibit discrimination, so we all have an equal chance at a job.
  • Laws and unions that limit the hours you work and set minimums for pay.

We’ve created a system that guarantees you’ll have retirement benefits when you get too old to work, and money coming in should you become disabled and can’t work. The list goes on and on, all with one thing in common: None of these protections were a gift handed out by factory owners or Wall Street bankers. The American worker was behind each and every one.

So as you bite into that burger or watch that parade today, remember: This isn’t the first time the American worker has been through tough times, and it won’t be the last. But we’re lucky to live in country where working hard allows us to change our family’s future — and working together allows us to change the world.

Here’s to you!

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