If you think about it, almost every major holiday centers on gratitude.
With New Years, we express gratitude for new opportunities and a fresh start. With Valentine’s, we express gratitude for our significant other. Mother’s and Father’s Day, gratitude for our parents. Memorial Day, gratitude for those who gave their lives for our country. Independence Day, gratitude for our country itself. Thanksgiving, gratitude for everything. You get the idea.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Labor Day is also about gratitude.
Of course, gratitude probably isn’t what most people think of when it comes to Labor Day. But it should be. Because with Labor Day, we have an opportunity to give thanks for some indispensable rights and privileges – and the men and women who risked everything to win them for us.
As you probably remember from history class, the late 1800s and early 1900s were a time of great social upheaval in the United States. Workers around the country marched, protested, and went on strike in order to secure safer working conditions, fairer pay, and a higher quality life for themselves and their children. Many lost their livelihoods in the struggle; some even lost their lives.
But their efforts were not in vain. Many of the rights and privileges we enjoy today – rights we too often take for granted – were thanks to the Labor Movement. For example:
8-hour Days, 40-hour Work Weeks. For much of our country’s history, Americans were forced to perform backbreaking labor for 12 hours per day or more. From sunup until sundown, men and women gave every ounce of blood, sweat, and tears they had just to survive. Thanks to the Labor Movement, 40-hour work weeks became standardized – and eventually codified into law. The time we have to see our families, engage in hobbies, read a good book, or even just enjoy a beautiful sunset is thanks to the Labor Movement.
Weekends. As you know, Labor Day is the first Monday of September. That means we get to enjoy a three-day weekend. But the very concept of a weekend is thanks to the Labor Movement! Huge, nationwide strikes and marches around the turn of the century gained Americans the right to a shorter workweek. Let’s all remember that the next time we sleep in on Saturday or go golfing on Sunday. TGIF? Workers had to fight for those letters to mean anything.
Sick Leave. Have you ever had a nasty bout of the flu? Ever needed surgery? If so, we imagine you took time off to recover. We also imagine you didn’t worry about whether you’d still have a job by the time you were better. Without paid sick leave, most Americans wouldn’t have the means to heal from their illnesses, injuries, and accidents. Nowadays, we consider this a basic human right – a right we wouldn’t have without the Labor Movement.
Paid Vacations. Ever visited Yellowstone National Park? Disneyland? Ever gone on an iconic fishing trip, or just took a few days off to finish a project around the house? Vacations are something none of us could live without. They help us recharge our batteries. They help enrich our lives. They form the core of some our most cherished experiences and memories.
We have Labor to thank for vacations, too.
Safe Working Conditions. On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City. The factory’s owners escaped. Most of the factory’s workers, mainly women, did not. Due to locked doors, blocked fire escapes, and flammable surroundings, 146 laborers never returned home that day.1 The youngest were only 14 years old.1
In the 21st century, none of us would want to work in a place that was fundamentally unsafe. None of us would want to work where disease and disaster were rampant.
In the 19th century, most workers had no choice. Thanks to their sacrifice, we do.
Childhood. At the turn of the 20th century, more than 1.75 million children labored in mills, mines, factories, and farms.2 They spent 10-14 hours every day in dangerous conditions for very little money. Most never received an education. As a result, many grew up with callused fingers, poor eyesight, rotting lungs – and unrealized potential. But the workers and protestors of the Labor Movement didn’t just fight for their own rights. They fought for their children’s, too. That’s why it became illegal for most industries to employ children under 14, and why there are so many protections in place to prevent older children from working long hours in dangerous jobs.
These days, most kids spend their days going to school, romping on the playground, riding bikes, or any of a thousand other fun activities. In other words, they are allowed to be children. That’s something we should never take for granted – and it’s largely thanks to the Labor Movement.
As you can see, Labor Day is all about gratitude. Just as we give thanks to the Founders for our country, soldiers for our safety, and parents for our lives, so too should we thank the workers and laborers who came before us. The men and women who, thanks to their efforts, made life more worth living.
On behalf of everyone at Minich MacGregor Wealth Management, we wish you a happy Labor Day weekend!
1 “Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire”, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangle_Shirtwaist_Factory_fire
2 “Exploring 19th-Century Child Labor in the United States,” United States Census Bureau, https://www2.census.gov/programs-surveys/sis/activities/history/hh-14_teacher.pdf