Labor Day Message 2023
The dignity of honest work is probably the most effective force in creating a harmonious community. “A hard day’s work won’t kill you” as my father may have said. Hard work that is rewarding and well compensated, of course.
The history of labor is not a pretty picture, or at least not a simple one. Some of the corporate names that are considered respectable and many of us own stock in those companies were once criminal in their behavior. What is more we buy their products.
Andrew Carnegie is most famous for funding libraries across the country. That’s great! But there was a time when he ordered his managers to shoot his striking workers while he was vacationing in Scotland. Ford Motor Company hired Pinkerton guards to stand on the roof of a production plant and fire upon strikers on the street below. All is forgiven, we still buy Fords.
But something changed. Industry did not wake up one day and say, “Hey we’re going to change the way we treat our employees.” That something was the labor movement, and that movement did not fare well at first.
Politically, labor activists were the “kids” looking through the candy store window. Judges and politicians went to the same country clubs as the captains of industry. Therefore, they were at a great disadvantage when they took their grievances to court.
In 1866 Samuel Gompers set up the American Federation of Labor. It was not the first labor organization, but it is the only surviving labor union of that time.
It is known today as the A.F.of L.-CIO. The CIO was originally the Committee of Industrial Organizations and was part of the American Federation of Labor. The CIO was forced out of the A.F. of L. in 1938 but returned to the fold in 1955 as the Congress of Industrial Organizations. In other words, even in the labor movement, not everything was Hunky Dory.
Getting back to what changed was the fact that labor unions gained political power through the efforts of Senator Robert Wagner and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They led the legislation that gave labor some legitimacy. Ironically Senator Wagner and FDR were both members of the privileged class, but they had a different approach.
Have a Great Labor Day!