SEPTEMBER 6, 1954
HYDE PARK, Sunday—I have always thought that Labor Day is one of our most significant holidays. It comes on the first Monday of September and most of us are delighted to have a long weekend. Not all of us fully appreciate the reasons why this celebration of a nationwide holiday came about and is important in itself.
I was made conscious of Labor Day by a little historical notice which was sent to me, and which I found interesting. This notice was in a monthly letter sent out by Alvin J. Wolff, who signs himself "Your Westchester Correspondent" though his address is in New York City. I paid a dollar for his letter and I find it has amply repaid me.
Mr. Wolff says that the United States, Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico have legally celebrated Labor Day for almost three-quarters of a century. Then he goes back a little into the history of the labor movement and reminds us that there was a time when all manufacturing was an art, in the hands of carefully trained individual craftsmen. Then came the industrial revolution, the factory system, the machine age.
A machine could do the work of hundreds of people. It took time to develop mass production. Meanwhile, men and women were thrown out of work, leaving countries such as Great Britain and our own country—as well as many European countries—with many people idle and hungry, who once had skills which permitted them to earn a living. The machine was turning those people into slaves, and was for the time a ruthless master. There was revolution. People wrecked the machines and finally, out of dire need, the labor movement was born.
People organized to protect themselves "not only against unscrupulous employers, but even against those who worked for less." By working for less these people jeopardized the living standards of all. Thus there had to be a coming together in a union, where people agreed on what was best for all and worked together to achieve it.
In the history of the labor movement in this country there are glorious pages. I remember reading with pride the story of Peter Altgeld. There are also bloody pages, and pages of shame in the movement. There were and are union leaders who are arbitrary and dishonest. But there were and still are arrogant, dishonest and selfish leaders in the ranks of business, education and the press.
It is easy today, when everyone has come to understand the value of a higher standard of living and of a public which looks upon this broad foundation as a safeguard to national prosperity, to forget the long years of struggle of organized labor. Even now we are apt to ignore the fact that without organized labor the unorganized groups would slide back quickly to poor conditions, which would hurt the prosperity of the nation.
So when we celebrate Labor Day we should have in our minds the things for which we are really grateful—a strong labor movement and increased knowledge, wisdom and honesty among its leaders.