Usually I just give you a quick little “Happy Labor Day” blurb on this holiday and I move on to the next post. It’s an easy out for me – I’ll admit it. But, this year, I decided I wanted to discuss this holiday a bit more.
You see, I am proud of the history of our nation. Yes, there have been mistakes, horrible injustices and a lot of wrongdoing. But in the end, our nation was built by men and women who came here seeking to forge their own paths. They fought against dictatorships and royal rulings to travel vast, uncharted distances in search of a better life. There was no GPS then, no maps and no way of knowing if they would survive the journey.
As our country grew, we began expanding and inventing. Labor unions formed in order to keep industry safe and productive. (There is a lot more to it – read here.) The country began to recognize just how important labor and industry was to our nation and in 1894 President Grover Cleveland signed a Labor Day holiday into law.
My dad worked in a factory to put food on our table. He came home every day smelling of sweat and food byproduct (he worked for Chef Boy-ar-dee) and was often too exhausted to do anything else once he got home. (In a food manufacturing plant, at least back then, there was no AC because it could bring in germs to the food products. Conditions in the heat of the summer would raise the temp in the factory to well above 100 degrees.) My mother worked in a garment factory, inhaling fabric particles and a television manufacturer, staining cabinets, both of which eventually ruined her lungs. My grandfather worked in a munitions factory during the war. He was around nuclear waste on a daily basis with no thought to what it might be doing to his body.
I think all too often today we forget about the sacrifices of our ancestors. We forget the struggles they faced to make this nation a great one and to keep food on the table. We forget the blood, sweat and tears that were shed to build up this country. Labor Day has become a day set aside for barbecues and vacations instead of a day of remembrance.
Look at these photos. I was astonished when searching for photos to use representing labor that so many had young children toiling beside their parents’ or other adults.
We forget how hard it used to be. We forget the sacrifices made. Today, we’re so wrapped up in being offended or wronged by small injustices and, yet, your ancestors worked at VERY young ages right up to the point of death to simply put food on the table for their family. They weren’t offended. They worked. They did what had to be done.
I’m not trying to rain on your Labor Day parade. I simply want us to reflect and remember. Things were not simply handed to our ancestors. They fought, scraped and some died to keep their families going through good and hard times.
So, today, as you kick back with your hamburger and beer, remember how these people worked to give you that luxury. Remember how blessed you are to live in a country that is now afforded with safe labor practices and companies that provide for their employees.
Yes, we have taken a step backward lately, and, yes, we have still more to fight for. And, yes, it’s okay to take a day off and enjoy yourself – I will be, too. But remember, even for a moment today, what this holiday means and be thankful for those who have come before you to provide it.