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Labor Day of yesterdays and today

Since I was a boy, the term “Labor Day” meant the opening day of dove season, the end of seersuckers for the year, the kickoff of SEC football and the unofficial end of summer.  

I never considered why we have a three-day weekend or the actual meaning of Labor Day.  

However, last week a friend mentioned to me that Labor Day weekend is more than Dawgs, Bama and Jordan-Hare Stadium. The history of Labor Day and the realities of today are deeply contrasted and very interesting.   

YESTERDAY

Labor Day always occurs on the first Monday in September. It honors what some consider the “American Labor Movement.” Beginning in the late 19th century, as labor unions grew, their leaders proposed that a day be set aside to celebrate “labor,” which they defined as only employee-workers. May and September were the two months under consideration. 

The holiday’s early days were rough. Thirty-eight years after Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto, large parts of the world were becoming inundated with communists and socialists. On Tuesday, May 4, 1886, violence came to America in the form of the Haymarket Massacre. The bloodshed occurred during the aftermath of a bombing that took place at a labor protest at Haymarket Square in Chicago. The protest was primarily formed to support former workers striking to force an 8-hour day and in reaction to the peacekeeping efforts by police which resulted in violence the previous day. An unknown person threw a dynamite bomb at the police as they acted to disperse the public meeting. The bomb blast and ensuing gunfire resulted in the deaths of seven police officers and at least four civilians; dozens of others were wounded. 

Conservative Democrat President Grover Cleveland was one of many Americans concerned that a labor holiday on May 1 would tend to become a commemoration of the Haymarket Affair and would strengthen socialist and anarchist movements that backed the May 1 commemoration around the globe. In 1887, he publicly supported the September Labor Day holiday as a less inflammatory alternative. The date was formally adopted as a United States federal holiday in 1894.

From 1894 to1965, labor unions grew and wielded great power. However, for many reasons, they have become an afterthought in most of America — particularly the south.

TODAY

As I mentioned above, Labor Day is very different today. While employment data generally divides workers by employees and employers, the misconception that “labor” and “workers” are exclusive terms for people who work with blue collars has been eradicated. Today, workers are socially viewed as anyone who works and receives income.  

Additionally, Georgia is a “right to work” state. Right to work states encourage freedom to work and discourage the interference of labor unions. This, along with a high-quality workforce with people possessing diverse skills provides the perfect environment for prosperity.    

We see the health of our workforce when recognizing that Georgia has set records in the total number of people in the workforce, total number of people employed, total number of jobs available and the fewest number of individuals on unemployment since 1990. 

Georgia’s unemployment rate currently stands at only 3.9 percent.

Additionally, according to the Georgia Department of Labor, there are over 140,000 jobs listed on EmployGeorgia.com. This means that these jobs are available but have not been filled by workers. On Sept. 1, 2018, alone, 3,022 jobs were added in Georgia. West Georgia continues to steadily grow as well. For example, Carroll County set records in July 2018 for growing its labor force and employed residents.

 The July 2018 Carroll County unemployment rate dropped 0.3 percent to reach 4.1 percent. It was 5.3 percent one year ago.

 The labor force increased in July by 165 to reach 56,588 total members — a new record. The number has climbed by more than 1,100 over the past 12 months, an average of more than 90 per month. 

 In looking back at Labor Day 2018 in Georgia, we will certainly be grateful for spending time with loved ones, shooting doves, and watching the fans of the mighty Gators get excited as Florida plays Northwest Arkansas State Junior College and similar powerhouse programs each year. 

We should also consider how fortunate we are to live in a time when all work is respected, freedom of the individual employee and employer is creating wealth, and the original meaning of Labor Day significantly contrasts with the reality of today.