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Honoring all of the American workers

September 3, 2012
Salem News

Today we honor the working men and women in the United States. Labor Day is a pause from the regular routine where people toil to advance in the workplace and support their families. For most, this legal holiday is a day of rest and recreation - the symbolic end of summer. Enjoy your day.

This year local workers, like those around the rest of the country, seem to be on a teeter-totter with equal weight at both ends. Unemployment remains higher than anyone would like. Many of those who had lost their jobs during the economic downtown a few years back, have returned to the workforce. But often it has been in a different job with lowers wages and minimal benefits if any at all. Times are not always easy for your typical worker.

The shale industry will help some. There is a huge demand, for instance, in the welding and truck driving areas. Trade schools are being kept busy which is good. There has been spinoff plusses too from the shale ripples in housing and general spending: those who have moved here to work have to live and shop somewhere, right?

Regardless of type of work, ultimate success requires the quality to which Labor Day is dedicated. That quality is hard work.It is also important that we remember the origins of Labor Day.

In the late 1800s, at the height of the Industrial Revolution in the U.S., the average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks to earn a meager living. Children as young as 5 worked in mills, factories and mines earning a fraction of what adults made. Workers frequently faced unsafe, unsanitary conditions without breaks.

That began to change with the labor movement in the late 19th century. That movement led to workplace reform and, eventually, Labor Day, which became a federal holiday in 1894 and which is observed on the first Monday in September to pay tribute to the contributions and achievements of American workers.

The true founder of Labor Day has yet to be identified. Many credit Peter J. McGuire, cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, while others have suggested that Matthew Maguire, a secretary of the Central Labor Union, first proposed the holiday.

The face of labor and issues surrounding it have changed significantly since. Only 20 percent of the labor force in 1900 was made up of women, compared to about 45 percent today. The onset of Social Security and compulsory retirement rules are credited with reducing the number of people ages 65 and older in the work force. Americans rarely face battles over wages, the 40-hour workweek is standard and safe work environments are the norm. We toil less with our hands and more with our heads.

But through it all, one constant remains. Success results from hard work. And across the board, the typical American worker is a hard worker.



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