Friday, August 24, 2012

Why Labor Day?

Monday, September 3, 2012 is Labor Day.

And that got me to thinking.

Why labor Day? Why a day for laborers? Are we the unsung heroes of the Industrial Age? The Technological Age? Are we geniuses, modern marvels? Well, maybe some of us are, but most of us are just average workers doing our jobs.  So, why do we need a special day?

Labor Day in the United States was first celebrated on September 5, 1882 in New York City. It became a federal holiday in 1894, when, following the deaths of a number of workers at the hands of the U.S. military and U.S. Marshals during the Pullman Strike, President Grover Cleveland put reconciliation with the labor movement as a top political priority. Cleveland chose the September date because he was concerned that aligning an American labor holiday with existing international May Day celebrations would stir up negative emotions linked to the Haymarket affair.

The Haymarket affair was a demonstration and unrest that took place at the Haymarket Square in Chicago on Tuesday May, 4, 1886, wherein Chicago police fired on workers during a general strike for the eight hour workday, killing several demonstrators and resulting in the deaths of several police officers, largely from friendly fire. It was the Haymarket affair that led to International Worker’s Day, which is also known as May Day. Ever since, May Day has been a day of demonstrations — and, sometimes, violence.

So, this sounds like “the shot heard around the world” that started a workers revolution. It’s a pity that everything man does has to have violent happenings attached.

But, getting back to my question: why do we workers/laborers need a special day? Now, don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a day off as much as the next guy, but does anybody really celebrate laborers. True, some states may have a parade, but do any of us go to it. I, mean, it’s not like the Memorial Day parades or the Thanksgiving Day parades. What do you do on Labor Day? Do you proudly wear the colors of the company you work for, or something similar?

I appreciate the original meaning of the day — people died in a tragic event and someone wanted to remember them (aside from the political ramifications). But, do we really need all the hoopla about a day for laborers in general? Personally, I’d rather have a raise in salary then another day off — even if it is a paid “holiday”.

As laborers, we should just do our jobs, and appreciate the accolades from our employers, along with the monetary compensation that comes with it. And there’s the point. WE GET PAID. We’re not doing it out of the goodness of our hearts. (Though many of us probably like our jobs and would do it even if we didn’t get paid.)

There seems to be a big “to do” about the Department of Education wanting to pay some teachers that are better than others more money, or bonuses. Some unions are not happy with it. So, what’s the problem? Isn’t that the way it really should be? If you do a better job than the person next to you, shouldn’t you get compensated more? Unions are beneficial. I’m not anti-union. The reasons for which they were started were valid. But, unions can also be detrimental. I’ve never been in a union, but I have been a wage-an-hour employee.  And I have gotten raises and bonuses for doing a better job than the other guy. In unions, pretty much everyone gets paid the same. Of, course, there may be differences as to experience, etc., but for the most part, the pay is the same for the same job.

Now that can be beneficial and it can be detrimental. One detrimental effect I’ve seen first hand is that the union protects the slackers as much as those that are there to really work. I’ve seen instances where there were two people making the same pay, but one was not putting his all into it and the other really was into the job. It eventually affected the conscientious worker negatively. Seeing himself working hard and the other slacking and both receiving the same pay,  the hard worker eventually thought: "Well why should I do all the work and this guy gets the same pay, I’ll start slacking off also". So, the result — two slackers and half the work getting done. Rewarding everyone the same amount of pay for the same job whether they are doing an average job, or an exceptional job undermines creativity and resourcefulness — two things really needed to make companies successful. If you do a better job than the other guy, then you should be recognized and compensated more.

Also, I’ve noticed that some people seem to think that they don’t have to work as hard if they are getting paid less. Now, think about this. If you’re hired to do a job, then you should do it with all of your might, no matter what you are getting paid. If you didn’t like the pay that was offered you, then you didn’t have to take the job. When I was a manager in the Gimbels (remember them?) warehouse, I had a conversation with the Security Manager. He was frustrated because he could not get good security guards. He would hire people, they would wind up stealing from the company and he would have to fire them. In his frustration he said to me “Well, what does the company expect for what they pay them?” (At the time I believe it was $5.50 an hour.) I told him that the problem was not what the people were being paid, but character. It was their character that was in question. I told him that if they took the job for the amount of money offered they should work for that amount of money. I asked him: “What is the difference between $5.50 an hour work and $7.50, or $8.50, or $9 or $10 an hour work?” He had no answer. And, rightly so, since there is no difference. It comes down to character.

And character brings me back to Labor Day. The impetus for Labor Day, though never specifically stated, was character. If everyone had been treating everyone else right, there would not have been the troubles there were. We would probably not even have unions today, because there would not have been a reason to bring them about. Employers and employees needed to realize (and may still in some situations need to realize) that their relationship is symbiotic. Without the businesses — the employers — there would be no jobs and without the employees — the laborers — there would be no product.

So, do we actually need a Labor Day?  I think not. What we do need, though, is for all of us to work/labor together in unity.

And that is something to think about.

(This article was originally published on  I re-printed it here with some minor changes and updates.  If interested, you can find the original article here:

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