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Labor Day 2013

Photo of child labor at a North Carolina mill 1908 from The Commons via Flickr.

Photo of child labor at a North Carolina mill 1908 from The Commons via Flickr.

Unions began forming in the mid-19th century in response to the social and economic impact of the industrial revolution. The labor movement is responsible for promoting child labor laws, safe working conditions and fair wages, but it is an unfinished job.

Oregon was the first state to make Labor Day a holiday in 1887. By the time it became a federal holiday in 1894, as the first Monday in September, thirty states already officially celebrated Labor Day. One hundred years ago in 1913 the U S Department of Labor was created. Some churches commemorate the day before Labor Day as Labor Sunday.

American labor unions benefitted greatly from the New Deal policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s. The Wagner Act, in particular, legally protected the right of unions to organize. According to Wikipedia “the percentage of workers belonging to a union in the United States peaked in 1954 at almost 35% , but membership has declined since (currently 12% of the labor force.)

In the wake of the most crippling recession in 80 years the United States is still trying to create more jobs (7.3 million jobs in the past 41 months). Unemployment is at its lowest level since 2008 overall, but it is still a vexing problem, particularly for the young and minorities. The minimum wage still keeps too many working poor in poverty and there are still gross gender inequities in pay.

Unemployment, low wages, unsafe jobs, globalization, the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, taxes (who pays and how much), the right to form a union (and why someone might want to), imports from China and closed factories in the U.S. – are issues of economic justice.

Moyers and Company has much to say about economic inequality. The UCC’s Justice and Witness Ministries educates and advocates around a number of economic issues. You can find links to these in the list below:

• Justice on the job for all workers, especially low-wage workers
• State and local government workers
• Ending the economic crisis and building a more equitable economy
• Globalization, trade and investment treaties
• Race, ethnicity, and economic justice
• Immigration
• Poverty
• Preserving and strengthening Social Security
• Reshaping the federal budget to better meet our needs
• Banking and our Values
• Labor Trafficking (modern-day slavery)

These should not be partisan issues, but rather ethical ones about compassion, our values and fairness – in the richest nation of the world.

Make your voice heard about these issue to our elected representatives as we pause this Labor Day 2013.

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