As we say goodbye to the end of summer with our final barbecues dressed in white pants and tank tops, we must also remember what Labor Day is really supposed to represent. Every year, we observe the first Monday in September as the "creation of the labor movement" and this day "is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers."
So, who are some of those American workers we should be thanking for this precious day?
Peter J. McGuire is considered to be the "father" of Labor Day. He founded of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America and fought for workers to organize themselves, and institute a universal system of cooperative production and distribution throughout his life. He came up with the idea for Labor Day parades, which then led states to recognize the day as a holiday. His long list of contributions to the labor movement, including the eight-hour-day cause, makes him the number one person we should think of this Monday.
Samuel Gompers was the first president and co-founder of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). What started with a few working men in cigar making turned into the "longest lasting and most influential labor federation in the United States." Without his encouragement of strikes, labor unions today would not know what their most powerful weapon for negotiation is.
Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, "the most dangerous woman in America," fought for mine workers with her persuasive tone and passionate voice. Even after two tragedies — losing her family to yellow fever and watching all her possessions burn in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 — she still supported workers’ struggles. The railway union convention didn’t call her "Mother" for nothing.
Walter Reuther’s passion for social and economic justice brought new light to the contemporary labor movement. From fighting for significant gains in wages and union rights during World War II to mobilizing union support for the Civil Rights movement, Reuther believed in the democratic value of labor unions and what they could mean for the future of American works.
Last, but definitely not least, we must thank a million times the people who work on Labor Day. While most of us spend the day mowing our lawns or relaxing by the pool one last time before the tarp goes back on, many people must go to their jobs because, well … they have to. The fires won’t fight themselves, and who will take care of all the sick people? The next time you meet a nurse, an air traffic controller, a police officer, or an electrical power line repairman, tell them you appreciate them and all the hard work they do every single day of the year.