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Published on September 3rd, 2018 | by Guest Contributor

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Thoughts from a Community Organizer on Labor Day

Henry Shorr is a Community Organizer with Working America in Central Ohio. Find him on Twitter at @HenryShorr

Happy Labor Day!

To most people in America, Labor Day means a day off, barbeques, and pool closings. But for millions of workers in America, it also could be their only guaranteed weekday off between Independence Day and Thanksgiving.

Why do we get this day off? Unions. So what have unions ever done for us? How about an 8 hour work day, weekends, workers’ compensation, maternity leave, health coverage, vacation and sick time, pensions and retirement benefits, workplace protections, and collective bargaining. That’s just to name a few.

Seriously, though, all of the worker benefits currently in place in the United States are rights won by unions and organized labor.

Therefore, it’s important to remember these rights were not easily acquired. Blood… sweat… tears… and then more blood, sweat, and tears went into every fight that labor took up.

How did we get here?

The 1880s were an important era for labor in the United States. In 1882, New York held its first “Labor Day” celebration. Originally, Labor Day was supposed to be a break for workers halfway between Independence Day and Thanksgiving, so the first Monday in September was picked. That day saw 10,000 New Yorkers march from City Hall to Union Square. Then, in May of 1886 The Haymarket Riot happened in Chicago. The deaths of 7 police officers and 4 workers led to martial law, the execution of labor leaders in Chicago, and a crackdown on Labor efforts around the country and the world. Other countries celebrate their Labor Days on May 1st to commemorate the Haymarket Riot.

 

The Haymarket Riot, which boiled down to the workers’ demand for an eight-hour work day, didn’t end the labor movement in America. In fact, it was followed by the Homestead strike over proposed wage cuts in Pennsylvania and the Pullman strike just outside of Chicago. The Pullman strike, which was about a lot and is a really cool story in and of itself. Essentially, the ARU was striking over higher rent and lower wages led to federal troops marching into different cities to force railroads back into locomotion.It’s a pretty cool slice of labor history and you should look into if you have a few minutes. Six days after that, Grover Cleveland pushed through legislation establishing Labor Day to win back some good faith from the unions. The U.S. opted to keep the first Monday of September for our Labor holiday to not draw attention to the Haymarket riot.

That was in 1894.

41 years later, FDR signed the Wagner Act, which guaranteed the rights of private sector employees to belong to a union and engage in collective bargaining. 41 years. That’s almost twice as long as I have been on this earth. Between the Wagner Act and today, there have been even more battles. Wins and losses, triumphs and struggles. Labor has seen recent defeats such as the Supreme Court’s Janus ruling, which poses a major threat to our public sector unions by allowing non dues-paying members, or free riders, to receive the benefits bargained for by the unions without contributing anything to said unions.

We’ve also seen wins. In 2011, Ohio rejected SB 5 by a large margin and staved off the monkey that is Right to Work. Now, Ohio is surrounded by so-called Right to Work states. Supposedly, “right to work” brings in better businesses and jobs. However, Ohio continues to rank in the top ten for business climates and Ohio workers have on average better wages and benefits than counterparts like Michigan or West Virginia.

Where We Are Now

Ohio’s labor force is strong. Gov. John Kasich hasn’t messed with the unions since he lost his battle with the SB5 referendum, but he hasn’t been a friend to labor, either.  Workers need an ally in the Governor’s Mansion, in the Statehouse, and in Washington. That starts with us. We need to support the people who support us.

 

That means voting based on issues. At the end of the day, the issues a candidate runs on is what they will be putting effort towards in office. If you care about health care vote for the candidate with the best health care plan. If you care about education, or jobs, or infrastructure base your vote on those issues. Bottom line: If you are a part of the working class support people who support the working class and organize your efforts to better help bring forth the change you want to see in your community. Those are the people who we as constituents will have to work with when January comes.

What You Can Do

Today is the official start of election season and that means there is still plenty of time to get out and affect change positively in your community and beyond. There are plenty of great outlets to do so in Ohio, like (shameless plug forthcoming) getting involved with Working America! We have canvasses every Wednesday night up to the election and an action every Monday. Working America targets socio-economic issues but there is a great organization for any cause you are passionate about.

To sum up these somewhat congruous thoughts: Remember why we fight, fight for your issues before your party, and finally: just get out there! There is no time like the present. Especially with November around the corner.

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