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For those of you who want something to ponder, do wet birds fly at night? I look forward to your findings.

And now back to my weekly gig. Ever wonder where Labor Day came from? While you’re still pondering that I’ll provide you a synopsis on what Google said. Labor Day became a federal statutory holiday in 1894. The holiday began with trade unions back in 1882. Back in those days labor union activities were considered clandestine outfits but the Knights of Labor and American Federation of Labor wanted to recognize America’s workers/laborers so they put together parades and came out of the shadows.

The unions back then as well as today were not liked by the average business because unions forced corporations to share their wealth with the folks who did all the work. I recall Upton Sinclair’s book “The Jungle” that described the horrifying meat-packing work environment and caused me to question the quality of any canned meat because there seemed to be a lot more garbage than meat in the cans.

We’ve come a long way from before Labor Day, back in those days you really did owe your soul to the company store. Most likely you lived in company housing, and the company managed to take most of your paycheck for living expenses.

There were no such things as holidays or vacation days — if you didn’t show up for work you didn’t get paid.

The absence of sick leave left many families not only bankrupt but starving. Twelve to 14-hour days seven days a week were the norm. The exception was some folks got Sundays off but most didn’t.

Labor actually involved laboring; building roads involved men using pickaxes and shovels instead of bulldozers, farming relied more on sweaty horses and men’s backs than any machinery, and it took at least a day to travel 20 miles.

Then along came the industrial revolution, with factories, steam engines and such. Laborers then sweat in the fires of the steam and steel industries, safety took a backseat to production and factory work was indeed a dangerous occupation.

The only ways for workers to get any relief required a compassionate employer or they had to unify their voices to their employers. Back in the day this was considered radical, especially when the workers decided to strike and shut down a plant until their demands were met.

Back then unions were quite effective and it seems to me that they lost their momentum back in the late ’60s or so when the feds decided that some strikes were able to bring the country to a standstill … think railroads, shipping yards, airlines, etc. Labor union strikes have become rather rare since. They still exist but they’re basically replaced by something called arbitration.

Thus I’ve concluded that we laborers’ labors are much better than before Labor Day came along. We still have a ways to go, equal pay for equal work, etc., but until then let me be the first to thank you for your labors and I hope you enjoy your holiday.

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Dan Ulmer is a parent, grandparent, as well as a retired teacher, counselor, politician, lobbyist, public employee, nonprofit executive and opinionated citizen who believes that we need to do what we can to leave the world better off than we found it.

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