Monday marks the day when many of us will gather in a backyard setting with family and friends for the unofficial end of summer.
It’s Labor Day, and we’ll celebrate that annual day off like it’s our last, perhaps lounging poolside before it’s closed for the season, and stoking up the grill for burgers and dogs again. Maybe steamed crabs will be on the menu as well. And of course, for most kids attending public school in Charles County, it’s a last precious day of freedom.
But while we’re enjoying that three-day weekend, let’s not forget what that day off represents. Labor Day, officially created by congressional legislation in 1894, is meant to honor the collective social and economic achievements of workers in the United States.
And for all the recent talk of trade wars and a possible looming recession, most folks are working. The nation’s unemployment rate stood at 3.7% in July, the most recent month available for statistical review by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Maryland’s jobless rate was a tad higher than that, at 3.8%. In Charles County, the unemployment rate for June (the latest month reported by the state’s department of labor, licensing and regulation) was 4%. Calvert and St. Mary’s counties clocked in with the same rate at 3.7%.
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 and signing into law by President Grover Cleveland in 1894 during his second term in office.
Indeed, labor unions and their organized movements have proven effective at improving conditions for workers since the Industrial Revolution. Certainly, there are those who argue vehemently, year after year, that unions have too greatly expanded their influence today, with hands plunged deep in the pockets of lawmakers and affecting election outcomes. But politics aside, the benefits that unions have brought to construction workers, electrical workers, teachers, government workers and others, as well as the growing families they work to support, can’t be denied.
So keep that in mind this Labor Day weekend, while floating on a pool raft, with your stomach full and content in living the proverbial American dream. That dream, for so many, is possible today because of our history’s labor movements.
It is in some ways a second Independence Day, a celebration of our freedom to develop our skills, market them to the highest bidder and reap the rewards. That’s a principle that should never be forgotten.
So enjoy the day. And then on Tuesday, get back to work. And back to school.