About Labor Day

“All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Labor Day, you may be interested to know, has been an official holiday in the United States and Canada since 1894. But though North Americans have been celebrating this occasion for over 100 years, most of us are not quite sure what it’s about.

One fellow I asked said, “I guess it’s about labor. Honoring work. Giving the working man a day off.” Another thought “it has something to do with pregnancy.”

Peter J. McGuire, one of the founders of the American Federation of Labor, is considered to be the “Father of Labor Day.” At a meeting of the New York Central Labor Union, he proposed that a day be set aside for an annual picnic and demonstration of worker solidarity.

That first Labor Day was celebrated in New York on September 5, 1882. It was an idea whose time had come — a tipping-point phenomenon. Before very long, there was a major social movement to make Labor Day a regular occurrence. Legislators in both the United States and Canada felt the heat. It became a national holiday soon thereafter.

I’m not big on labor unions. I’d much rather see workers treated well enough that they have no desire to form them. But since this hasn’t always been so, Labor Day was created and represents, at least historically, the idea that workers have to defend themselves against their bosses.

Union member or not, you’re not going to get ahead by strikes and slowdowns. The history of major-league baseball since 1972 tells us that.

You can support your union if you think its cause is good — but if you want to get ahead personally, you’re going to have to help your company rather than fight it. That is what I’d like you to think about today.

Teddy Roosevelt said, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

That strikes me as powerfully true.

If the business you work for is not treating you right, the best thing you can do for yourself is make yourself very, very valuable to your employers (which means you will be equally valuable to their competitors). Then ask for a compensation package and a work environment that will please you.

This has been, is, and will be the best, fastest, and surest way to make your way to the top.

If you don’t get the raise you want, go back and ask for it again. Be nice, but ask. If they don’t budge on the money, suggest other ways they can compensate you. Ask for flextime, extra benefits, or a bigger expense account. Even better, ask for additional responsibilities with cash bonuses tied into performance.

That said, I leave you with one more interesting quotation that relates to this much-loved holiday — this one by Ulysses S. Grant:

“Labor disgraces no man; unfortunately, you occasionally find men who disgrace labor.”

Enjoy your time off.

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]