American workers and the unions they belong to have transformed a once agrarian nation into an industrial and technological powerhouse. Since the late 1800’s, labor unions and the workers they represent have worked hard to not only improve the economic condition in the country, but also to improve workers’ rights and safety. The first Monday in September is more than just an opportunity to take a break; it’s an opportunity to reflect on the achievements earned and the ongoing efforts to improve working conditions throughout the country.
History of Labor Day
The first Labor Day was celebrated in 1882. Organized by the Central Labor Union, that first celebration involved 10,000 New Yorkers who took the day off to march for the improved rights of laborers. It was a spark that ignited increased awareness and a trickle of regulations that spread across the country. By 1894, Labor Day was a federal holiday, and the efforts to improve working conditions began to gain momentum.
Over the next few decades, labor laws began to evolve. In 1916, the Adamson Act established the eight-hour workday; a significant improvement over the 12 hour days which were common at the time. This opened the door for additional legislation including the National Labor Relations Act in 1935. The NLRA has served as a backbone that supported the establishment of everything from the 40-hour workweek, minimum wage, child labor laws, benefit programs, holiday/sick leave, and more. In fact, the Family and Medical Leave Act, Social Security, workers’ compensation, and anti-harassment laws can all trace their lineage back to the NLRA and the efforts of organized labor nearly a century ago.
Future of Labor Movement
The American economy is constantly evolving. With each evolution, new challenges emerge, and new solutions are required to ensure that labor laws address the issues faced by American workers. This includes challenges raised by the rise of automation, the growth of the “gig economy,” the use of unpaid internships/apprenticeships, and more. What is certain is that tomorrow’s solutions to today’s challenges will have roots that go back to the early days of the labor movement and the organized efforts of men and women across the country. The path forward today is the same as it always ways; dedicated workers pressing legislators and the business community to protect workers’ rights and improve workplace safety.