August 31, 2010 > Editorial: Labor Day
Editorial: Labor Day
The Federal holiday most closely associated with the end of summer is not related to length of days except in a tangential manner. Labor Day is recognition of the chaotic and often adversarial nature of business. As a free and capitalistic society, we pay homage to entrepreneurial initiative which, in theory, recognizes the fruits of hard, honest labor. In practice however, at times there is little distinction between the amount of wealth and how it was attained.
In the quest for money, power and prestige, historical and contemporary examples abound of worker abuse even though such employment was and still is critical to the creation of wealth. Long hours and poor compensation are a legacy filled with sweat shops, child labor and poor working conditions. These business practices were common leading up to the establishment of unions in the United States. The struggle between "haves" and "have-nots" is often disruptive and unruly; unions offer powerful representation for working people. Those in power, enjoying wealth and luxurious lifestyles, have been reluctant to relinquish their position while others, striving for an equitable piece of the action, find strength through the power of consolidation... a union.
The birth of unions in this country has been a brutal and uneven process but one that brings a degree of balance to the workplace. Attributes of war have been present in this struggle; Labor Day was declared to lessen the intense pain of the particularly bloody and brutal Pullman strike in 1894. There is nothing foreign about unions. Our nation is based on the concept of a union formed to defy existing social, political and military structures. The Preamble to the United States Constitution states:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
While many societies throughout the world limit movement through economic and social class by birth, skin color, religion and other external factors, in our celebration of Labor Day, the United States recognizes the ideal of strength and fairness through group actions. Those who achieve economic power through the labor of others may accumulate wealth, but must recognize the contribution of partners in the enterprise - labor - to achieve their goals.
Labor unions are not perfect, suffering internal problems of corruption and greed, but throughout the struggle between labor and management, they have been a voice that cannot be ignored. In an increasing complex world in which business challenges are constantly changing, balance at workplaces is essential. Labor Day is a time to reflect on the formation of our nation and the value of those who continue to be world leaders as a productive workforce.