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Celebrating the Labors of Americans
Labor Day has always been a special kind of holiday. It is unlike Christmas or Thanksgiving with their roots embedded in faith. It is not like other Federal holidays that honor an individual -- like Columbus Day, or Martin Luther King Jr. Day, or President’s Day – or those that commemorate historic events -- like the Fourth of July and Veterans Day.
Labor Day is unique in that it recognizes and honors the contributions of all working Americans. It is a day, especially in West Virginia, which calls attention to the struggles and successes of labor leaders and the workers they championed, of which our State boasts a rich legacy.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the first Labor Day was organized by the nascent labor movement in New York City in 1882, and later spread to industrial centers across the country. It took several years before Labor Day was officially recognized – beginning with municipal and state governments. By the time Labor Day became a Federal holiday in 1894 twenty-three states had recognized Labor Day as a legal holiday.
It came about in an era that did not recognize weekends of rest and relaxation for the average worker. In the late 19th century, child labor exploitation was common, and oppressive wages and working conditions often led to violent labor riots and boycotts. There were none of the Federal labor protections we take for granted today; no collective bargaining rights, no health and safety standards, no minimum wage or overtime. Workers would have to fight and die for those rights in the years ahead.
Certainly, on Labor Day, it is fitting and appropriate that we remember how far we have come in the last 118 years, and how much further we must travel, especially when it comes to securing the health and retirement benefits of workers so that they can live in comfort and dignity in their old-age.
But Labor Day is also a day to remember and celebrate the regular, everyday workers – coal miners, nurses, teachers, secretaries, mechanics, machinists, factory workers, public servants, and so many more.
It is a day for workers to take pride in their craft, and the skills and talents and experience they have learned and bring to bear in their labor. It is a day to celebrate the contributions of workers to their communities, as well as to their state and their country.
Helen Keller once noted that the world is moved not just by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but by the aggregate of tiny pushes from each of its honest workers.
This Labor Day, let us remember those honest workers, as well as the dignity and nobility of an honest day’s labor. And let us commit to ensuring that the gains of labor in America are never undone and that future generations will continue to celebrate Labor Day by recognizing the unsurpassed talents and contributions of the working men and women that have made America great.
U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) represents West Virginia’s 3rd District
For more information contact: Diane Luensmann (202) 225-3452