Somber Labor Day still just as necessary
There is some debate, as there often is with good ideas, about who thought of it first. Was it Peter McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, or was it machinist Matthew Maguire, secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., and secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York, who first proposed a celebration of the American worker? Either way, someone in the early 1880s suggested we honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold,” as McGuire put it, and by 1885, municipalities all over the country were doing so.
Eventually, the celebration became the parade-filled three-day weekend, we know today.
Well … maybe not today. This year is different. This year, during which so much has changed, those on whose backs this country is built and thanks to whom it keeps running have borne the largest burden and suffered the biggest blow as a result of COVID-19. Doctors, nurses, first responders, teachers, grocery store employees and many others deemed “essential” stepped up to tackled what might end up being the most challenging time of their careers. And while they did, unemployment skyrocketed — reaching approximately 15 percent in April.
Even after six months (the national unemployment rate was sitting comfortably below 4 percent in February), the national average unemployment rate is still more than 10 percent. In many places there will be no parades; and the three-day weekend will feel just like any other stretch of days for far too many people.
Yes, this Labor Day means something more. Today while we do honor and thank those whose Herculean effort kept us afloat during this nightmare, we must also remember those who are waiting desperately for news that they will have work and purpose in the “new normal” that is to come. We thank them, too, because we know all they need is their chance again to prove they are part of what makes America’s the greatest workforce in the world.
Should we all use the common sense and decency this country’s citizens once displayed in abundance, they will get that chance. Next year’s Labor Day may well be a return to the light-hearted parades, cookouts and last-chance vacations we have come to expect.
To get there, we ALL have work to do.