September 1, 2013

OUR VIEW: Honoring the American worker


---- — Ahh, Labor Day.

It’s the unofficial end of summer. It’s the last hoorah for the ole grill. It’s a day off work to spend some much-needed downtime with family and friends.

Oh, wait, it’s also a day to remember American workers. That’s the part we tend to forget about heading into our annual three-day weekend in early September.

In most cities, Labor Day doesn’t provoke the same grandiose events it once did. But, on Sept. 5, 1882, the very first Labor Day was a grand occasion.

Held in New York City, there was a picnic, concert and speeches.

The real splash came from the 10,000 workers who marched in a parade from City Hall to Union Square.

The parade was held to shine a spotlight on the strength of the trade and labor organizations. In short time, the holiday was moved to the first Monday in September, where it has remained to this day. In 1894, Congress declared it a national holiday. As time marched on, the day became a time for prominent men and women to make speeches about the economic and civic relevance of the reason for the holiday.

And as the character of the American workforce changed, so did that of the Labor Day celebration. As life became better and safer for the American worker, on the backs of those who organized the first holiday, the day evolved into a celebration of summer.

Paid vacations. Sick days. An eight-hour workday. The weekend. Safer working environments. These are all part of the dream from, and in many ways a result of, that first Labor Day. But now that we take those things for granted, we tend to forget they’re precious commodities that need our attention, protection and observation.

So, this Labor Day, let’s remember those who didn’t make it home from work.

The Indiana Department of Labor reported 113 deaths in 2012. It’s the lowest experienced since records were kept. Decreases in fatalities were seen in eight of 10 major Hoosier industries.

The most significant improvement was in manufacturing, which saw a 28 percent decrease in fatalities in 2012. That’s great news, but we’re pretty sure the families of those 113 workers would say more needs to be done, and we’d have to agree.

This Labor Day, let’s remember those who aren’t working.

According to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, Cass County recorded an 8.4 percent unemployment rate in July.

That means, their numbers show, 1,533 are without work. Another group that would likely say more needs to be done.

Let’s remember Monday is a day to celebrate the American workers and the role they play in making this country great. So as you’re standing around the barbecue with family and friends, turn the discussion to ways to better working conditions and creating better jobs.

It’s a conversation that still needs to happen in America.