Monday, we took a momentary break from our hectic day- to-day lives of classes, jobs and whatnot to observe Labor Day, a holiday that, of course, supposedly celebrates work.
The actual meaning of Labor Day has kind of fallen to the wayside, but that meaning is as potent and powerful as ever. Around the world, working people celebrate May 1 as International Workers’ Day or Labor Day.
This is, of course, in response to the arrest, trial and execution of those who fought for the eight-hour workday in Chicago in 1886, following an event we refer to as the Haymarket Square Massacre (you can read more on that in my previous column, What May 1st Means at TheNews.org.)
But in the U.S., where May 1 is Loyalty Day and Law Day, we observe Labor Day the first Monday in September.
We observe Labor Day in September as a kind of commemoration of the workers who were killed in the 1894 Pullman Strike, in which a number of striking railroad workers were shot dead as the federal government moved to break the strike. President Grover Cleveland (a notoriously anti-labor President) declared Labor Day in September just days after the events of the Pullman Strike, and it has remained ever since.
Labor Day, now as then, is a reprieve from work, and a much needed one. We celebrate the contributions of hardworking American men and women from all walks of life on Labor Day – well, at least, we like to say we do.
I say ‘“we like to say we do” because Labor Day has ceased to be a celebration of those who work in these United States. It has become little more than a cruel joke.
Honor labor? How can we begin to honor those who work if those who work cannot make ends meet? The minimum wage sits at $7.25, in spite of the fact that the cost of living continues to trend upward.
Americans who go to work every day are subjected to long hours or on the flipside, too few hours to make a living.
They are denied the right to a voice on the job – a concept so foreign to most of us that we can scarcely define a ‘union,’ or seem baffled when we see workers across the country walk out on strike demanding higher pay and better working conditions.
Health care is denied on the basis of ability to pay, even in 2013. Obamacare is not universal health insurance – and don’t let anyone tell you that it is. Even with expanded coverage, many Americans will still not have access to health insurance under the President’s plan.
Millions are without adequate food, housing and clothing even today. These are the men and women we fallaciously honor every Labor Day, and yet we insult them by doing absolutely nothing to help them improve their station in life.
Labor Day can either be an opportunity to push us toward a more humane society or a sick joke – but it cannot be both.
Devin Griggs is president of the Murray State College Democrats.
Column by Devin Griggs, Opinion Editor