Labor Day 2018
By Dennis R. Pierce
BLET National President
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, August 31 — When the first Labor Day was celebrated in New York City in 1882, our Brotherhood had been fighting to improve wages and working conditions for locomotive engineers for nearly 20 years. Today, some note the holiday as marking the unofficial end of summer, but the true history of Labor Day is far more somber.
America in the late Nineteenth Century was a decidedly unfriendly place for workers. The six day workweek was the norm, and the typical work day lasted from 10 to 12 hours, without payment of overtime. There were no pensions, health care or vacations for the average worker. The courts considered trade unions to be illegal conspiracies in restraint of trade. A railroad strike in 1877 led to industrial warfare in which railroad workers and citizens were killed by federal troops, and 10 years after the first Labor Day a private army hired by Andrew Carnegie murdered seven steel workers in Homestead, Pennsylvania.
Despite this dark history, the labor movement that we honor this weekend is the engine that made the American Dream a reality for tens of millions of workers and their families. All of the benefits we enjoy today — including paid holidays like Labor Day — are the result of generations of struggle by American workers and their unions. Those victories were not won just by union leaders fighting on behalf of their members. Rather, they were the product of union leaders and members fighting together in unity, waging struggles that required blood, sweat and tears, and genuine sacrifice to win.
Labor unions are under attack like never before when you consider the potential ramifications of the Supreme Court’s recent Janus decision and the possibility of a national right-to-work law being considered in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.
This fall’s election could mark an historic turning point. Wall Street and Big Business are seeking to turn back the clock to the dark days of the late Nineteenth Century. I urge all BLET members to join our fellow Brothers and Sisters throughout the Labor Movement in electing politicians who understand and support organized labor. Fulfilling your obligation to vote in the national, state and local elections this fall is an investment in the BLET not unlike the sacrifices of those who preceded us, and it can have an equally powerful impact on where we go from here. It also is the best way to honor those who fought for your right to vote, whom we remember this weekend.
Friday, August 31, 2018
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