August 29, 2022
As the three-day Labor Day weekend approaches, please take a moment to reflect on how the American Labor Movement gave us this holiday and so much more.
Organized labor fought for gender equality. At the turn of the 20th Century, women were being forced to work in sweatshop conditions in factories for a small fraction of what their male co-workers were earning. The 1909 “Uprising of the 20,000” at a New York State fabric mill led to a successful strike and unionization effort that began to turn the tide in favor of female workers. In 1963, with the full weight of the AFL-CIO behind it, the Equal Pay Act was signed into law, permanently banning wage discrimination based on gender.
Unions also had a huge role in creating Immigrants Rights in America. In 1877, there was a sometimes violent uprising of predominantly Irish immigrant coal miners who were protesting dangerous work conditions and slave wages forced upon them by wealthy mine-owners in Northeast PA. The rebellious Irish miners became known as the Molly Maguires. Twenty of them were infamously hung for their alleged criminal acts. Their fight for workplace fairness and safety led to the formation of the United Mineworkers Of America union.
The Civil Rights Movement and the Labor Movement are inextricably linked. Dr. Martin Luther King, an icon of the Civil Rights Movement, was assassinated while marching with striking public sanitation workers in Memphis, TN. In 1972, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists was founded. Last year, the Philadelphia Building & Construction Trades Council elected the first African-American leader in its history in Ryan N. Boyer. Under Ryan’s leadership, the Trades are committed to greater diversity within our ranks.
For decades, unions have led the way on championing Workers’ Rights. We successfully pushed for the enactment of Child Labor Laws, fair wages and benefits, employer-sponsored health care, paid sick leave, paid maternity leave, retirement benefits, pensions, Social Security, the 40-hour work week and eight hour workday, paid holidays, overtime pay and Unemployment Compensation.
It’s hardly ironic that Bruce Springsteen, a man who’s a musical hero to many working class Americans, captured the importance of the Labor Movement when he said, “Unions have been the only powerful and effective voice working people have ever had in the history of this country.” Amen to that, Bruce.
If you’d like to meet and honor the regional Labor Movement, please consider joining us at the 35th Annual Tri-State Labor Day Parade on Monday, September 5th on Columbus Boulevard in South Philadelphia. If you can’t make it out, enjoy your day off and thank a union member for making it possible. Happy Labor Day!
This content was authored by Mark Lynch, Jr., Business Manager of IBEW Local 98.