Labor Day: A Lesson For Today’s Times

Many will spend Labor Day this year planning family BBQs, attending parades, or worrying about Hurricane Earl. But Labor Day has a deeper meaning than just the symbolic end of summer; for over 100 years, it has served as a national tribute to the social and economic achievements of all American workers.

In today’s economy, the significance of Labor Day is particularly relevant. One can see many historical allusions to the first National Labor Day in 1894. It was a time of big business, with railroads representing 60% of the stock exchange, and companies like J.P. Morgan, Proctor & Gamble, and General Electric becoming household names. However, a four-year economic depression in 1893 halted progress, and railroads and steel mills quickly began failing. The Pullman Sleeping Car Company alone laid off hundreds of employees, and engaged in pay cuts for most of the remaining workers. Sound familiar? It bears striking resemblance to the recent failings in the auto industry and the burst of the housing bubble.

Yet, historic example brings hope. Although the road was rocky for many, the changes made during the four-year depression eventually propelled the US into the world economic giant it is today. The government passed legislation aimed at disbanding monopolies and American workers began to reinvent themselves, adapting to the 20th century economy. Our current economy is also on the verge of a shifting job market. Our government is investing in new industries, and our residents are looking at new careers in expanding fields – cybersecurity, renewable energy, healthcare, and more. The future job market is bright, and will take our economy into new and exciting directions. It is important for those caught in the transition to ensure that when the economy does recover, they are armed with the skills they need to succeed.

The resilience of the American worker is what has created our nation’s strength and leadership and is the reason we celebrate Labor Day. Samuel Gompers, head of the American Federation of Labor in 1898, described the holiday as a “day for which the toilers in past centuries looked forward, … [when] they may touch shoulders and feel the stronger for it.” It is a day where we recognize the strength and accomplishments of our workers, and resolve as a community to get all of our citizens back to work.

Category: OPINION

About the Author - Kirkland J. Murray, President and CEO, AAWDC

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