This Labor Day, whether you are grilling in the back yard, catching those last rays of summer sun, or catching a game, it’s worth remembering why people all across America have this day off – to celebrate the value and dignity of the hard work that men and women do every day in America. As Samuel Gompers, head of the American Federation of Labor, said in 1898, Labor Day is
“the day for which the toilers in past centuries looked forward, when their rights and their wrongs would be discussed…that the workers of our day may not only lay down their tools of labor for a holiday, but upon which they may touch shoulders in marching phalanx and feel the stronger for it.”
Let’s also remember that the guy who had the original idea of Labor Day, Peter. J. McGuire, had a strong connection to St. Louis – his skillful organizing of St. Louis carpenters led to the foundation of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America. From his AFL-CIO bio:
Moving to St. Louis, Mo., in 1877, McGuire helped win the Missouri legislature’s support for one of the first Bureaus of Labor Statistics in the United States. Still in his 20s, McGuire was appointed deputy commissioner of the new bureau but resigned in 1879 to organize a union of carpenters. McGuire had come to see trade unions as indispensable to his socialist vision and to believe he should turn his energies to organizing and building a labor movement.
Within two years, McGuire had organized St. Louis carpenters thoroughly and won such impressive wage gains for them that it attracted the attention of carpenters everywhere. McGuire then issued a call for a national meeting of carpenters’ unions in Chicago. The 1881 meeting resulted in the formation of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC). McGuire was elected UBC secretary, the organization’s chief administrative officer. That same year, McGuire wrote the convention call for the national conference of labor unions that established the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (FOTLU), the organizational forerunner of the American Federation of Labor.
Labor Day was eventually enshrined as a US holiday by Congress as an attempt at conciliation of the new labor movement after the aftermath of the Pullman Strike. Of course, the struggle on behalf of workers’ rights didn’t end with the declaration of a one-day holiday. As Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan notes, “Labor Day should also serve as a reminder that there is still much to be done to help working Missourians and their families, especially those who struggle to access adequate and affordable health care.”
Consider this a Labor Day open thread.