Labor Day is a U.S. national holiday held the first Monday every September. Instead of shopping sprees and B-B-Qs the holiday’s founders envisioned something very different from what the day has become. They were looking for two things: a means of unifying union workers and a reduction in work time. The first Labor Day occurred in 1882 in New York City under the direction of that city’s Central Labor Union. In the 1800s, unions covered only a small fraction of workers and were relatively weak. The goal of organizations like the Central Labor Union and more modern-day counterparts was to bring many small unions together to become more powerful. The organizers of the first Labor Day were interested in creating an event that brought different types of workers together to meet each other and recognize their common interests. Unions increase the bargaining power of workers, which translates into higher earnings and a stronger voice for employees.
Labor Day also came about because workers felt they were spending too many hours and days on the job. In the 1830s, manufacturing workers were putting in 70-hour weeks on average. Sixty years later, in 1890, hours of work had dropped, although the average manufacturing worker still toiled in a factory 60 hours a week. These long working hours caused many union organizers to focus on winning a shorter eight-hour work day. They also focused on getting workers more days off, such as the Labor Day holiday, and reducing the working week to just six days. Labor unions are still finding ways to wield their organizing influence and help fellow-workers.
Labor Day is a celebration of the American labor movement. That’s easy to forget these days.
Workers need unions
The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found that income for non-union workers fell as union membership declined. And union membership has fallen because it is a casualty of class war.
If union enrollment had remained as high as it was in 1979, nonunion working men in the private sector would have earned an average of $2,704 more per year in 2013. The average non-unionized male worker without a college degree would have earned an additional $3,016, and those with only a high school diploma or less would have earned $3,172 more. Unionization also narrows the racial wage gap, according to a new study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
Unions not only benefit their own members but they also help non-union workers. EPI explains that nonunion employers “may raise pay for some workers to forestall an organizing drive.” They also respond to “the standards that unions help establish through politicking for labor-friendly policies,” and from the fact that unions are “a cultural force arguing for a ‘fairer share’ for working men and women.”
It is true that unions often limit their activities to matters concerning their membership. But it is wrong to conclude that this work does not help workers more generally or that unions don't organize for the common good. Unions such as the Service Employees International Union have spent millions in a fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, even though they are unlikely to get an increase in membership in the short term. Call it the tide that lifts all boats.
Forget the “sharing economy”—get a union instead.
If instead of the conservative motto, ‘A fair day's wage for a fair day's work!’ you seek to inscribe on your banner the revolutionary watchword, ‘Abolition of the wages system!’ contact:
World Socialist Party of the United States
P.O. Box 440247, Boston, MA 02144, USA