Samuel Gomper, the founder of the American Federation of Labor, believed in the importance of Labor Day. "Labor Day differs in every essential way from the other holidays of the year in any country. All other holidays are in a more or less degree connected with conflicts and battles of man's prowess over man, of strife and discord for greed and power, of glories achieved by one nation over another. Labor Day ... is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation."
From the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, capital and labor have been pitted together, a symbiotic relationship in which one is dependent on another.
In the late 1800's, workers organized into one union of skilled, semiskilled and unskilled workers, allowing them to do what they could not do alone: achieve the right to collective bargaining, establish an eight-hour work day, end child labor and seek an end to economic discrimination.
On September 5, 1882 in New York City, the Central Labor Union celebrated the nation's first Labor Day with a parade and picnic. In 1884, the CLU declared the first Monday in September as the "workingmen's" holiday. By June 28, 1894, Congress passed an act making Labor Day a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories. At the 1909 AFL convention, a resolution was made in dedication to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement, establishing the Sunday proceeding Labor Day as Labor Sunday.
Today brings new challenges to organized labor, including the loss of skilled manufacturing jobs, outsourcing of call centers, and changes within the textile and steel industries. When questions were raised over how to organize, a split between the American Federation of Labor-Congressional Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) with seven other labor organizations ensued, resulting in the formation of Change to Win (CtW). The AFL-CIO has offered solidarity charters to CtW members of Central Labor Councils (CLC) for the disfranchised unions. This will assure a bond and continue local strength to central labor councils. CtW and Service Employer International Union (SEIU) wanted to take on a grassroots movement with a global perspective that would seek to help hotel and restaurant workers in England to achieve wage parity. The idea to keep wages and benefits at higher levels in such countries is so that we may keep our collective bargaining position in here the United States strong. The United Steel Workers of America are also looking to form relations with labor unions abroad.
This year, the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill, and for the first time in recent history, the Senate debated why unions are necessary for this country, as well as our economy. The Employees Free Choice Act (EFCA) would help to correct a broken system and assure U.S. workers the ability to form unions and have bargaining rights. This legislation would "strengthen penalties for companies that coerce or intimidate employees, establish mitigation and binding arbitration when employers and workers cannot agree on a first contract, and [would] enable employees to form unions when a majority signs authorization cards."
Each year, millions of dollars are spent to frustrate workers' efforts to organize, and 97 percent of private sector employees are forced to attend mandatory anti-union meetings, even though when asked, over 60 million American workers said they would join a union if they could.
In the Boise area, there are 20 unions and more than 3,000 members affiliated with Boise Central Trades and Labor Council (BCTLC). This is a body in which labor organizations coordinate both political and social agendas. This would include grassroots support of labor-friendly candidates, community involvement efforts, such as Habitat for Humanity and food drives, and union awareness campaigns.
A project initiated last July by graduates of the Grace Carroll Rocky Mountain Labor School, titled "Labor Your Neighbor," is encouraging union members and friends of labor organizations to display yard signs that proclaim "proud to be union." This will help create awareness in the community about the presence of union members in their neighborhoods and connect working families with other trade unionists.
On a global scale, labor leaders are under assault. Many organizers and union activists are harassed or fired from jobs; some are beaten and others are murdered. This is not acceptable in today's human-rights recognition. We must make a stand for human rights for all citizens of the world and let them gain the strength needed to change the condition of their lives, so they can bargain collectively for a safe work place, health care and a dignified retirement. So let's take time this Labor Day to remember what sacrifices have been made and what goals are yet to be achieved in this age of globalization and technical advancements.
BCTLC invites all workers and working families to celebrate an over 100 year tradition at Boise's Municipal Park (#8 Oak Burr), Monday, September 3, 2007, from noon to 5 p.m. Come join us.
Lenny Williams is vice president of Boise Central Trades and Labor Council.