Remembering Labor Day: Then and Now

We all enjoy a day off from work but do you know why we get the first Monday in September off each year?

Originally, labor day was a celebration of the working class, the men and women who worked in largely manual labor roles to build industries and countries. The very first Labor Day was marked by a demonstration with speeches in support of workers’ contributions followed by a picnic. Nowadays, it is more associated with an extra day off before kids go back to school (in some countries) and holidays are officially over.

The labor movement brought an end to 12-hour days, seven-day weeks, children in factories, and other workplace abuses in many countries. [1] Although the traditional, blue-collar, unionized “working class” is becoming smaller and smaller, the labor movement has continued to gain power over the last few decades. Nowadays labor organizations have the power to negotiate with employers to increase pay and benefits. For example, in Canada, the negotiations between Canada Post and the union have been going on for months. Organized labour now has the power to push for benefits such as increased pensions which would have been unheard of historically.

But work conditions continue to evolve and organized labor will have to adjust. In some industries, organized labor’s influence is decreasing and manual labor roles are increasingly replaced by automation technology. No longer can you expect to work in a manufacturing or assembly plant for your entire career. To remain relevant, most workers in the developed world have moved towards knowledge work. And as goods are produced more cheaply, we all expect to pay less for the clothes we wear and the things we use every day. It is illogical to expect high paying jobs to make the things we use and then turn around and pay very little for those things in stores. And when our services, such as our mail delivery is compromised, we have less and less sympathy for the worker.

  • The average salary for Canadian university graduates with 2 years of experience is $45K. [2]
  • The average salary for Canada post letter carriers with a high school diploma is $52K + stable pensions after retirement [3, 4]

And the national average for unemployment rates is 6.8% and in regions like Alberta, it is 8.6% [5]. Many right now are grateful for any employment so to support workers that are fighting for what many feel is a luxury, a pension, is not going to garner much support from the masses.

Regardless of job disputes or how we may individually feel about our jobs, maybe we need to be a bit nostalgic and once again celebrate Labor Day for its original purpose. To celebrate work in all its forms and all its industries. Work is continuing to evolve and our roles in the workforce are changing but we should all be grateful for the jobs we have and the contributions we make. Happy Labor Day!

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marnie_pic_blogAbout the Author:

Marnie Larson is the CEO of StarGarden Corporation and oversees its operations in Canada, US and New Zealand. She has over 20 years’ experience in the software industry and specializes in HCM, Business process automation and Workflow technology.