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Laboring for the American Dream
Photo courtesy: Hamid Dabashi Facebook

By Emma Lynch

For many working folks, Labor Day may seem like the holiday that gives you a long weekend. The close of summer right before autumn sweeps in. A time when festivals run rampant and the last barbecues are held. Like many traditional holidays, the meaning may sometimes get lost by the symbols and images we choose to represent it.

Latinos are at the forefront in terms of the labor force in the U.S. One in every four construction workers is a Latino. This labor force has the highest fatality rate per 100,000 workers of any minority and Latino workers suffer more minimum-wage and overtime pay violations than any other ethnic group.

In 2011 the Labor Rights Week (LRW) was inaugurated in the office of the Consulate General of Mexico, Guatemala and Peru in Denver. LRW is an initiative proposed to improve the knowledge of labor rights among the Latino community. The Mexican Consulate works with unions, organizations and communities on a local and national level to combat, hate, prejudice and xenophobia in the immigrant community. Then, the regional representative of U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis was present at that inauguration along with Dusti Gurule.

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, symbolizes a yearly tribute to the contribution of American workers who built this country. The late 1800’s boasted the Industrial Revolution where the average American worked 12 hour days, 7 days a week with no day of rest just to make a living and feed their families. Often times the conditions were harmful and unsanitary and families suffered just as much as their laboring parents, siblings and spouses. Children as young as 5 years old even worked in factories. Recent immigrants and the severely poor were often given the worst wages and conditions to work in — many times with no breaks.

In protest of these stringent conditions and pay, labor unions were formed and became very vocal in their demand to employers for a better working environments. Strikes and rallies formed, many turning violent much like what we’ve seen today, but for a much different cause. It was on September 5, 1882 when close to 10,000 workers marched from City Hall to Union Square in New York City to voice their opinion. The workers went without pay that day and formed the first Labor Day parade in history.

In 1887, Colorado was one of just a few states to put the “workingmen’s holiday” into legislation making it a legal holiday. It was not until 1894 however, when it became a Federal holiday and that laborers who chose to celebrate would not be giving up a day’s wages for it.

Today, the debate stands, that if it was just one or two men who founded the holiday. Many argue that it was either Peter J. McGuire, co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, or Matthew Maguire, secretary of the Central Labor Union was responsible for this Federal holiday. The credit should perhaps go to all working persons who had the strength to stand up for the betterment of their lives and lives of their families.

Brandon Cooper, a volunteer firefighter, EMT, and full-time police officer looks to the unsung heroes who should receive recognition on Labor Day. “I’d like to think there are people doing much nobler jobs than mine. The guy that drives the garbage truck gets up every morning and does what most people would never want to do. That’s heroic in my eyes.”

He went on to say, “Everyone has a job, and each of those people make up the community. We’re all just working hard together to better the place we live. I don’t look at what I do as a job; I get to go to work everyday and try to make a difference in my community.”

Reprint from August 31, 2011 Edition





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