Why Labor Day Still Matters

Labor Day is more than time off – it is a celebration of the American worker. On October 7, 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said:

“The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, government relief for the destitute and, above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted it until they were overcome. When in the thirties the wave of union organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society.”

Dr. King knew then what we know now – Labor Day represents what today’s worker holds sacred.  Enjoy that 8-hour workday and time-and-a-half for extra hours? Thank Labor. Glad America’s children aren’t subjected to horrific working conditions? Yup, that was Labor too. Labor Day reminds us of a time in which there was no minimum wage standard, no employer-provided health insurance; and discrimination in wages occurred based on gender. Because President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act on June 10, 1963, women’s earnings climbed from 62% of men’s in 1970 to 80% in 2004. We recognize that those earnings are still not equal – that is, in part, why Labor Day still matters.

In a time where we are again pursuing economic prosperity, Labor Day stands as testament to hope. We know America can flourish once again. We know the American Dream is still possible because of the protections advanced decades ago. We also know that because the American worker believed as a country we could do better, the first Monday in September is a day still worth celebrating.

Crowd cheers as President Obama addresses Milwaukee Laborfest | 9.6.10

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