This year takes on a whole new meaning for Labor Day. While we still celebrate those brave souls who continue to work, even through the pandemic with a virus that mutates faster than a conservative gets banned from social media, or President Joe Biden removes troops from Afghanistan – leaving “no one” behind – there are millions of others who simply refuse employment. Many have grown complacent and reliant upon the government, and those extra few hundred dollars that were tacked onto unemployment checks helped to coddle the masses.
The “workingmen’s holiday” doesn’t hold the same meaning in 2021. The idea of a day to honor and appreciate American workers was born from blood and tears resulting from riots, strikes, and hard, long hours. During the Industrial Revolution, the average American worked 12-hour days, seven days a week, according to History.com. Children as young as five worked in mines, mills, and factories, earning even less than the adults. The conditions were – to say the least – not optimal, fraught with dangerous workspaces, little or no breaks, and poor wages.
On September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers took the day off, unpaid, to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City. This was considered the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history. In 1886, the Haymarket Riot ended with several Chicago policemen and workers being killed. Although some states were already formally recognizing a day to celebrate those who toil for a living, it took more riots and protests and a railroad strike before Congress finally decided to make an official day of worker recognition.
On May 11, 1894, employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company went on strike in Chicago, protesting wage cuts as well as the firing of union representatives. Then, on June 26, the American Railroad Union called for a boycott of all Pullman railway cars, crippling railroad traffic across the country. As a result, the government sent in troops to the Windy City. Riots ensued and a number of workers died. On June 28, President Grover Cleveland signed Labor Day into law.
In those days, people were fighting for the right to have safe working conditions and livable pay. Flash forward to today, and some Americans are doing whatever they can to not work. In June of this year, there were 10.1 million job openings according to the Labor Department. In April, an astounding four million people quit their jobs during that one month alone. As NPR reported:
“In normal times, people quitting jobs in large numbers signals a healthy economy with plentiful jobs. But these are not normal times. The pandemic led to the worst U.S. recession in history, and millions of people are still out of jobs. Yet employers are now complaining about acute labor shortages.”
“We haven’t seen anything quite like the situation we have today,” said Daniel Zhao, a labor economist with the online jobs site Glassdoor. There are several reasons people have decided not to return to their employment. While some are looking for better opportunities, others, especially in the restaurant and bar business, are worried about further shutdowns. Additionally, workers have quit or been fired because they refuse to get the COVID vaccination, and others, presumably, just want to sit back and veg on Netflix.
Meanwhile, employers who have already suffered their businesses being closed for months during the nationwide lockdowns are struggling to find enough staff to support their clientele. Some companies have offered generous sign-on bonuses, which have angered workers who had continued to show up and perform throughout the past 18 months. Customers are finding longer lines, fewer products available, and harried employees who are trying to cover for the shortages.
So, on this Labor Day, we celebrate those who continue to work. As for those still on extended vacation, maybe it is time to get a job.
Read more from Kelli Ballard.