We tend to take for grant­ed the good work­ing con­di­tions cur­rent­ly en­joyed by most work­ers in the US and around the world. The truth of the mat­ter is that these ben­e­fits were on­ly re­al­ized through the courage, de­ter­mi­na­tion, per­se­ver­ance and hard work of the men and women of the labour union move­ment.

Labor Day orig­i­nat­ed in the union move­ment and even­tu­al­ly be­came a fed­er­al hol­i­day in 1894 to pay re­spect to work­ing peo­ple, who have strug­gled through­out our country’s his­to­ry, and con­tin­ue to strug­gle, to make our democ­ra­cy vi­brant and our so­ci­ety strong.

It is al­so a day to rec­og­nize the im­pact of the la­bor move­ment on our so­ci­ety. Among oth­er things, unions (not com­pa­nies) brought us the five-day work­week, over­time pay, the min­i­mum wage, work­place safe­guards, paid va­ca­tions, sick leave, employer-provided health in­sur­ance and oth­er pro­tec­tions that are writ­ten in­to law.

Nor do most Americans re­al­ize how hard, long and even bloody the strug­gle was — how many peo­ple went to jail, lost their jobs and even died. The jus­tice of the movement’s goals at­tract­ed sup­port from many of the nation’s re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties.

The la­bor move­ment, iron­i­cal­ly, has suf­fered from its suc­cess. Part of the rea­son mem­ber­ship is at a low lev­el is that work­ers do not feel the same in­tense need to or­ga­nize as they did when pro­tec­tions and ben­e­fits were not writ­ten in law or part of American work­ing cul­ture, as they are to­day.

There are still mil­lions of work­ers, how­ev­er, es­pe­cial­ly in the con­struc­tion, agri­cul­ture and ser­vice in­dus­tries, who suf­fer dai­ly ex­ploita­tion and are among the low­est paid and least pro­tect­ed.

Also, these days, we are see­ing con­cert­ed ef­forts by state and fed­er­al gov­ern­ments to cut back the progress work­ers have made.

Not on­ly are we wit­ness­ing a de­val­u­a­tion of work­ers, but a group of hard-core pun­dits and politi­cians are in­tent on scape­goat­ing col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing rights for ed­u­ca­tors, po­lice, fire­fight­ers and oth­er pub­lic em­ploy­ees. They blame these pub­lic ser­vants and work­ers gen­er­al­ly for not bal­anc­ing the econ­o­my on their backs, rather than ask­ing com­pa­nies with mas­sive prof­its and tax breaks to pay their fair share.