Sara Beth Times

By: 
Sara Beth Wald

Labor Day was first celebrated by individual states to honor the contribution of industrial workers in the mid-1880s. Congress declared Labor Day a national holiday in 1894.
In its purest form, Labor Day is a celebration of the immeasurable contribution labor workers made to the development of our nation, and continue to make each and every day.
Every highway you drive upon, every rail of track, every bridge you cross, every pipe that brings water, every utility cable and street light, every brick in every building in America, every slab of concrete, was laid by a laborer.
Labor Day was born out of the Industrial Revolution to honor the average hard-working folks who were contributing to America’s rise as a superpower.
Of course, it didn’t take long to politicize labor. As laborers organized to fight for their right to adequate pay and workplace safety, politicians saw a new demographic to be exploited.
Everybody got greedy – industrialists, labor union bosses, organized crime, and politicians.
Somehow, the admiration of plain old hard work and American gumption was diluted.
And of course, there is the great immigration debate. We act like this is a new problem, but it’s really not.
The nationality has changed over the years, but it’s always been the newcomers to our country who did the dirty work.
It was the Italians, the Eastern Europeans, and the Irish who built the first great American cities.
The railroads connecting the East Coast with the American West were almost entirely built by Asian immigrants.
And of course, Africans built the agricultural economy in the South, although calling slaves “immigrants” is a serious misnomer.
By the early 1900s there was still a flood of immigration coming in from Europe. But there was also an established American working class, and conflicts arose between those who considered themselves “true” Americans and the newcomers.
Add to that the recently “freed” black slaves (although their freedom was tenuous at best), and it is amazing to consider that the American economy was able to absorb the influx of labor.
Fortunately, jobs were plentiful for those willing to work unbelievable hours in dangerous conditions.
We forget sometimes the thousands of people who gave their lives to the rise of the almighty American economy.
Nation building is hard, ugly, thankless work.
And here we are, over 100 years later, still arguing over the same things. Technology has changed. The economy has gone global.
OSHA and the labor unions keep tabs on safety and limit the workday.
But still the American laborer struggles for respect. We still argue about who should get the jobs, and who among us are the true Americans.
And we forget, even as we eat our hot dogs and enjoy the last long weekend of summer, that everything we’ve ever had as Americans, everything we ever will, wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for somebody working a job nobody else wanted.
This Labor Day, let’s look beyond the politics to say “thank you” to the hard working laborers who make our way of life possible.

An archive of The Sara Beth Times can be found at www.sarabethtimes.com.

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