The hardships facing American workers have come sharply into focus during the current recession. Many have lost jobs, are underemployed, or are worried about possible unemployment.
The American labor movement is more important than ever during these challenging times. Labor continues to advocate for workers, and is focusing on electing candidates who understand and value working Americans.
Labor Day is a time to honor the American worker, to recognize the significance of workers, and appreciate the huge contributions they have made to our country. Since 1894, when Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September a legal holiday, Labor Day has become a national celebration of our workforce. Now, more than ever, we need to remember why it is that we are able to enjoy this long weekend.
Despite their decreasing size, labor unions are still a vital force in American pubic life. As Victor G. Devinatz writes in Combating Negative Views of Unions: A Defense of Labor Studies,
Unions are democratic institutions that represent their members’ wills and are essential for a healthy democratic society. As political institutions, they also are one of the few remaining vehicles in the United States that represent and provide a voice for the political and economic interests of lower-income and disadvantaged persons.
Teachers have not always enjoyed the professional status and benefits that they have today. Most of those benefits had to be hard-won through organizing and collective action. If you have not yet watched the CEA video, Standing Up for Schools, please take a few minutes to see the important sacrifices your predecessors made that ensure better working conditions for you today.
Without the benefits that teachers of previous generations fought so hard for, today’s teachers would not be able to focus on children and teaching as they are now able to do.
During CEA’s 2010 Representative Assembly, retired NEA General Counsel Bob Chanin received the Friend of Education Award and, in his speech, answered the question, “How should a teachers union represent the interests of its members in 2010?”
The answer, I submit, is to actively participate in and, indeed, attempt to lead the ongoing debate about education reform at the national, state and local levels. To be open to new and even radical ideas. To accept change, even though change often makes us uncomfortable. And to the extent that there’s any conflict between education reform and employee rights, to make every reasonable effort to achieve an acceptable accommodation.
If you are planning lessons about Labor Day for your class, you can find links to background information and lesson plans on NEA’s website here.
Watch Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis’ 2010 Labor Day Address on The State of the American Worker.