Reader pays tribute to Labor Day

To the Editor:

As the summer ends and we prepare our families for the next year of school, we also end our vacation season by commemorating Labor Day.

This day is set aside to honor America's workers, specifically union men and women; but do most people know the significance or history of it?

Like the American patriots who put every thing on the line for newly adopted country, America's working men and women did the same for their jobs, their safety and their families.

Although the first Labor Day was celebrated on Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City with the Knights of Labor holding a parade, Congress did not officially declare the first Monday in September a national holiday until June 28, 1894.

But to truly understand and appreciate why and how Labor Day came about, we have to go back in history a little further.

Unions have been around for more than 200 years. In the middle of the 18th century, working men formed political parties demanding equality with landowners and merchants.

These people formed the Sons of Liberty and played a leading role in the protests against the Stamp Act imposed by the British on the Colonies.

In the early 19th century, workers in Philadelphia, New York and New England fought and even struck for a 10-hour work day and started the drive for free public education for their children.

Solely because of the efforts of unions and their new-found need for political involvement, imprisonment for debt was abolished and the public school system was established in America. Hence the term "Union Free School" came into being.

In 1881, 100 local and national unions, along with regional and local assemblies, formed the Federaton of Organized Trades, which later became the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in 1886.

Unlike landowners and merchants, the AFL became the first group that established a non-partisan political endorsement policy.

Through its efforts, new legislation saw arbitration come into being, child and women labor laws enacted, the new eight-hour work day, employer responsibility for industrial accidents and the need for factory and mine safety recognized.

However, the National Association of Manufactures (NAM) embarked on a drive to reverse these worker successes from the late 1800s through the 1920s by spending vast amounts of money to get their candidates elected to Congress.

Labor saw strikes, picketing and boycotts become illegal. Up until the Great Depression of the 1930s, employers, knowing the courts were less than sympathetic to labor, used espionage, blacklists and established the common practice of firing union organizers or "agitators."

It was the Depression, following the stock market crash of 1929, that brought a new Congress and a new concern for labor and worker welfare.

Since that time, labor fought for and succeeded in getting passage of the Norris-LaGuardia act of 1932 that reversed suppression to encourage for union activities and was the first major piece of federal legislation that applied favorably to collective bargaining.

The Wagner Act, also know as the National Labor Relations Act, followed in 1935 and protected employee bargaining rights, stopped blacklisting, bribing and spying on employees, and giving special concessions to some employees and not others.

The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, know as the Labor-Management Relations Act, established unfair labor practices and twelve years later, the Landrum-Griffin Act, known as the Union members "bill of rights" established dues and reporting responsibilities and that union elections be by secret ballot.

So you can see that Labor Day is not just another holiday, but a day meant to thank and recognize the American labor movement for everything it has accomplished for all America's working men and women, union and non-union alike.

In addition to the 40-hour work week, we now see overtime pay, safety legislation that protects workers, a public school system that today is taken for granted, and collective bargaining process that fights for wages, pensions and benefits.

None of this would be in place today if not for America's unions. Clarence Darrow, the great lawyer, speaker and writer, said it best.

"Trade unions have done more for humanity than any other organization of men that ever existed. They have done more for decency, for honesty, for education, for the betterment of race and for the developing of character in men, than any other association."

Christopher J. Cutter

New Milford