Labor Day is a creation of social movements. In September 1892, union workers in New York City took an unpaid day off and rallied in Union Square in support of the holiday. Continued agitations by the labor movement forced President Grover Cleveland to make it a federal holiday two years later. Samuel Gompers, head of the American Federation of Labor called it"the day for which [workers] …rights and their wrongs would be discussed…that the workers of our day may not only lay down their tools of labor for a holiday, but upon which they may touch shoulders in marching phalanx and feel the stronger for it."
Today our partners continue to breathe meaning into our collective celebration of labor through their unceasing efforts to secure human rights for all workers in our country. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and its allies will remind Publix grocery stores in the Southeast that until they enter into an agreement with the CIW they continue to hold back the transformation of the Florida tomato industry from one of sub-poverty wages and degraded conditions to the work with dignity promised by the Fair Food Program. In Baltimore, the United Workers campaign for economic development that ensures worker dignity receives a welcome endorsement by the Presbyterian Church and spreads their message as UW leader Luis Larin shares the organization’s history and campaign on Marc Steiner’s labor day program on WEAA. And Vermont Workers’ Center is hosting its first ever People’s Convention for Human Rights where over 400 Vermonters along with regional and national partners are gathering to continue the development of a broad grassroots vision for the state and beyond.
These are the efforts that are combating today’s economic crisis. Dr. Martin Luther King said more than four decades ago that “all labor has dignity” with a clear vision of the connections between labor conditions, human dignity, global peace and economic justice. In 1967, in addressing the National Labor Leadership Assembly for Peace he noted:
In the past 2 months, unemployment has increased approximately 15 percent. At this moment tens of thousands of people … are being abruptly thrown out of jobs and training programs to search in a diminishing job market for work and survival. It is disgraceful that a Congress that can vote upwards of 35 billion dollars a year for a senseless immoral war in Vietnam cannot vote a feeble 2 billion dollars to carry on our all too feeble efforts to bind up the wound of our nation’s 35 million poor. This is nothing short of a Congress engaging in political guerilla warfare against the defenseless poor of our nation.
These words continue to be painfully relevant today. Forty-five years later we have yet to bind up the wounds of our nation’s poor. And our people still face a diminishing job market for work and survival in the face of endless wars. In response, our partners and allies continue the unfinished business of building a human rights movement in the United States that will forever banish the brutal inequality our people face today. This Labor Day we must support, celebrate and honor their efforts and those of struggling communities across the United States.