COLORADO SPRINGS — Labor Day, originating in the late 1800s, is a holiday meant to recognize workers and their efforts that helped build the United States into the country it is today.
In honor of this year’s holiday, the Colorado Springs Labor Council (CSLC) held a concert and cookout in Old Colorado City.
“It’s a day to celebrate labor and labor’s had a tough fight,” said Les Thompson, the president of the CSLC.
The first Labor Day was actually held on a Tuesday on September 5, 1882, in New York City.
In 1887, five states set a day aside for laborers, including Colorado. Finally, in 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed a law that dedicated the first Monday in September to Laborers.
The day then sparked a nationwide workers’ rights movement that led to the banishment of childhood labor, the creation of the minimum wage, and a long battle dedicated to establishing an eight-hour workday.
The Adamson Act of 1916 implemented the eight-hour day and overtime for any railroad employee who worked longer than the set time. In 1926, Henry Ford made it part of his company’s policy and, in 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act that required overtime for American workers who worked more than 40 hours per week.
“We established the world’s largest middle class and we became comfortable and complacent with that,” Thompson explained. “Over the last two or three decades, we’ve seen that whittled away and if we don’t make a change today, it’s going to continue to erode, and, honestly, the middle class is what holds this country up.”
Thompson said he fears for the state of today’s labor market, thanks to income inequality and retaliation against workers who wish to organize.
Combined with that, Thompson points to statistics from several organizations that show the United States has some of the longest working hours in the developed world. According to Thompson, it’s a recipe for burnout and vulnerability for workers.
“As the wealth shifts from the working class and middle class to the wealthy, we just become slaves to the system,” Thompson said. “We become slaves to our housing, slaves to just acquiring food and it’s not fair because labor created all wealth.”
That’s not to mention the free labor Black Slaves contributed to the creation of America’s wealth through the 1860s.
Thompson also believes there’s wealth to be gained in putting workers before the corporations they work for.
“You’d have that time for leisure, that time for family, that time to be more creative,” Thompson said. “It gives us a chance to be a part of our community.”