By Rich Kline, Union Label and Service Trades Department, AFL-CIO
Ah, Labor Day. Picnics and parades, sales and vacations, what more could one ask for to celebrate the end of summer.
Only, that isn’t what Labor Day is about. Labor Day, which originated in the late 19th century is the “workingman’s holiday.” It should be a time to honor the American workers and remember those who came before us and forged a path to prosperity. A time to remember those brave soles who fought for fair wages and working conditions during a time fraught violence and oppression.
In 1883 railroad workers fought back against the Pullman Railroad Car Company and under the leadership of American Railway Union President Eugene Debs, who called for a full-scale national strike after Pullman cut wages by 25 percent, froze transportation at twenty railroads in 27 states. More than 30 people died and Debs was arrested in Chicago when federal troops intervened and broke the strike. That event or the one led by a New York City carpenter named Peter McGuire, where in 1882, after working many long hours under poor conditions, McGuire rallied 100,000 workers to go on strike. These events are the ones we should strive to remember this Labor Day.
We don’t even have to look that far back in history to find examples of the bravery of workers fighting back in America. More recently we can look at Kellogg workers who were locked out of their jobs for nine-months. Faced with financial uncertainty the workers held strong and were vindicated by a federal judge last month and allowed to return to work. Or, the Volkswagen workers in Tennessee who, bullied by politicians, didn’t give up on their dream of forming a union.
There is a long history of workers rising up to fight back against the injustices placed upon them. As labor leaders and union members our job is not done here. It has only just begun. In our local unions across the country, there are 21st century labor heroes blazing a new path. Let’s take a moment this holiday weekend to remember those heroes that came before us. Or perhaps march side-by-side with our next generation of Labor heroes who may be fighting for safer conditions in our factories, equal pay for women, minimum wage laws, or progress in our work places.
Union Label Week, September 1-7, 2014
From Labor Day, Monday, September 1, through Sunday September 7, 2014 American labor will observe Union Label Week—the time traditionally set aside for union families and all consumers to make a special effort to support good jobs by looking for union-made goods and union-produced services when they shop.
So please join with us during Union Label Week to celebrate the skills of union workers and honor the work they do by looking for union-made goods and services.