Did you know that the very first Labor Day observance was held on September 5th, 1882 in New York City? It was actually a protest, with more than 10,000 marching for better working conditions – many at the risk of losing their jobs since that was a work day.
Back in the late 1800s and earlier, it wasn’t uncommon in America to work in a job that required 12 hour days, six days a week. The conditions were often punishing, demanding intense physical labor for very low pay. Even worse, many of these jobs, in harsh environments such as farms, factories and mines, were filled by children.
In fact, it wasn’t until the Adamson Act passed on September 3, 1916 that our modern eight-hour work day was established.
Fast forward to today, and in most of the Western world we have the privilege of (relative) safety and (usually) reasonable demands of our work. If we are fortunate, we have benefits that the labor movement made possible for nearly everyone, and many of us just take that for granted.
On this Labor Day weekend, I’m reflecting on where we still need to do work. What still calls on us to be addressed? Surely gender and racial pay equity. Freedom from workplace harassment and bullying. A restoration of full-time work as opposed to the abuse of contract workers that employers use to avoid the costs of benefits. More paths to opportunity for all.
I could get behind any of those causes. But the area I’m most passionate about is the one I am in the best position to impact. I’ll call it the self-inflicted suffering of “good enough.” This Labor Day, perhaps you need a reminder that nobody is making you stay in a job that is soul-sucking. Or mind-numbing. Or toxic. Or underpaid, overworked, or under-valued. Really. You have choices. Employers are clamoring for good people and there is very likely something better out there for you. You just have to decide to go get it.