Take a break this La­bor Day week­end

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum -

Mon­day marks the day when many of us will gather in a back­yard set­ting with fam­ily and friends for the fi­nal time this sum­mer. It’s La­bor Day, and we’ll cel­e­brate that an­nual day off like it’s our last, prob­a­bly in­dulging in an adult bev­er­age (or two), per­haps loung­ing pool­side be­fore it’s closed up for the sea­son and break­ing out the grill for burg­ers and dogs be­fore we store it away un­til spring.

But while we’re en­joy­ing that last warm three-day week­end, let’s not for­get what that pre­cious day off rep­re­sents. La­bor Day, of­fi­cially cre­ated by con­gres­sional leg­is­la­tion in 1894, is meant to honor the so­cial and eco­nomic achievements of work­ers in the United States.

Ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Depart­ment of La­bor, the ori­gins of the fed­eral hol­i­day aren’t fully known. Some his­to­ri­ans be­lieve Peter McGuire, gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Brother­hood of Car­pen­ters and Join­ers and co-founder of the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of La­bor, was the first to sug­gest tak­ing a day to cel­e­brate Amer­i­can work­ers. Oth­ers say Matthew Maguire, sec­re­tary of the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Ma­chin­ists Lo­cal 344 in New Jersey, called for the hol­i­day in 1882 when he served on the Cen­tral La­bor Union in New York. Re­gard­less of whose idea it was, the Cen­tral La­bor Union did adopt a La­bor Day pro­posal, and the first La­bor Day was cel­e­brated Sept. 5 of that year. More states soon caught the La­bor Day bug, even­tu­ally lead­ing to its for­mal bless­ing from Congress.

La­bor unions and their or­ga­nized move­ments through­out the U.S. have proven ef­fec­tive at im­prov­ing con­di­tions for work­ers since the In­dus­trial Revo­lu­tion. Just this year, nearly 40,000 Ver­i­zon work­ers went on strike af­ter the util­ity com­pany threat­ened pen­sion cuts and the pos­si­bil­ity of more out­sourc­ing. Af­ter a month and a half, Ver­i­zon and its work­ers reached an agree­ment that Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Work­ers of Amer­ica Pres­i­dent Chris Shel­ton called “a vic­tory for work­ing fam­i­lies across the coun­try and an af­fir­ma­tion of the power of work­ing peo­ple,” ac­cord­ing to New York Times re­ports.

Cer­tainly, there are those who ar­gue ve­he­mently, year af­ter year, that unions have too greatly ex­panded their in­flu­ence to­day, with hands stretched deep in the pock­ets of law­mak­ers and af­fect­ing elec­tion out­comes. But pol­i­tics aside, the ben­e­fits unions bring to con­struc­tion work­ers, elec­tri­cal work­ers, teach­ers and oth­ers, as well as the grow­ing fam­i­lies they work to sup­port, can’t be de­nied.

Lo­cally, the Charles County Public School sys­tem ne­go­ti­ates con­tracts be­tween its va­ri­ety of em­ploy­ees in­clud­ing teach­ers, sup­port staff, bus driv­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tors. These an­nual ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the var­i­ous lo­cal school em­ployee unions and the board may not en­tail a strike of the mag­ni­tude a huge com­pany like Ver­i­zon saw this year, but they are not in­signif­i­cant. They hold our public of­fi­cials’ feet to the fire and en­sure our county’s public school em­ploy­ees are able to earn a liv­ing wage and sup­port their fam­i­lies through fair in­come, med­i­cal ben­e­fits and more.

So keep that in mind this La­bor Day, while float­ing on a pool raft, stom­ach full and con­tent in liv­ing the cliché Amer­i­can dream. That dream, for so many Amer­i­cans, is made pos­si­ble to­day be­cause of our his­tory’s la­bor move­ments. And that’s some­thing worth cel­e­brat­ing.

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