Most Americans probably have only a vague knowledge of President Grover Cleveland, but you can thank him for having Monday off of work.
For it was Cleveland who signed legislation in 1894 creating Labor Day, after the deaths of 30 workers during the bloody Pullman Strike in Chicago. The holiday grew out of a politically attuned desire to smooth tensions with the increasingly powerful trade unions at the time.
Yet like the other summer bookend, Memorial Day, Labor Day’s original intention been lost amid a flurry of sale ads and the blur of a badly needed three-day weekend.
And that’s a shame.
Because while Labor Day should certainly recognize the contributions of people like Walter Reuther, John L. Lewis, Cesar Chavez and Mother Jones, it also is about the American worker. It recognizes something that’s a core part of our human spirit -- the desire to be part of something, to build something, to earn a living.
Labor Day recognizes that we work.
We work because we pay our own way.
We work because we want to make things better.
We work because that’s how we prosper as a community, a family and a society.
Whether assembly-line workers, front-line employees, managers or CEOs, we work -- and Labor Day is the day we should give pause to those who came before us, who built this country, who created what we experience today. We owe them for safe working conditions, fair pay and diversity in the workforce.
Sure, the American worker today faces trials unthinkable even a generation ago. Shifts in technology have changed the economy, wages sometimes have struggled to keep up, and it increasingly seems like the middle class is on the ropes. But the life-force of the American worker continues.
Studs Terkel, the irascible Chicago oral historian, once said, “Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”
That might be a little dramatic, but we agree with the spirit.
Today’s American workforce numbers 160 million strong, creating the most robust economy in the world. American workers continue and preserve.
Keep up the good work.
-- JG-TC Editorial Board