In the United States, Labor Day was created amidst unionizing fervor in order to remind politicians, business owners, and laypeople that the American dream is built upon the back(s) of its workers*. Today, the workers’ rights movement in the United States looks a bit different, and so does Labor Day. Instead of hearing about marches highlighting the plight of American workers, I hear about door-buster sales at consumer behemoths who underpay and under-value their employees.
Given the new climate in which Labor Day exists, I want to take a minute to reflect on what it might mean for those of us in the modern age.
Labor Day was scheduled for the first Monday in September in order to help alleviate the gap in time off that occurred between July 4th and Thanksgiving. Labor Day is a precursor to Thanksgiving, and I think it should be treated as such. Today I am grateful for all of the workers who contribute their time and energy to efforts that make my life easier. I am grateful to the person who picks the apples I eat, the person who assembled the computer I am typing on, the person who delivers my mail – the list goes on and on. I am grateful to all workers who exchange their gifts for pay in order to provide a good or service. I am grateful to workers who endeavor to make this world better – safer, healthier, and more beautiful.
I’m currently on a leisure kick and am exploring the importance of rest as it relates to our labor (our work). Labor Day is a time to take rest and rejuvenate oneself – not just in an effort to do better work, but simply for the sake of taking rest. Today I am taking space to leisure (is that a verb?) and engage in activities that light up new areas of my brain, restore my energy, and connect me to others.
Labor Day was founded as part of a collective movement for workers’ rights, but today it feels more powerful to emphasize the humanity of each individual. So often in HR, we talk about the “talent pool,” “employees,” “human capital,” etc., that it can be easy to forget that those groups are made up of complex human beings like us. Labor Day is a reminder to all of us that we share our humanity with the workers in our organizations. We are all laboring for a better, brighter future, and we each bring unique gifts to that effort. I hope that this week you will revel in and be mindful of the connections that you have with your fellow laborers.
*There has yet to be open acknowledgment of the fact that the United States rose to power largely on the backs of African slaves, immigrants, and the poor who were forced to pick cotton, lay railway tracks, and clean our homes and office buildings.