Like many great American inventions, Labor Day was born in New York City. While the exact history is ambiguous, we do know that 128 years ago, the Central Labor Council of New York hosted a celebration to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.”
Over the years Labor Day has come to represent many things: the end of summer, one last chance to wear white shoes, a great day to get a bargain on furniture, and the official start of both the school year and the political campaign season.
Amid all that, we ought not forget the true meaning behind the working person’s holiday. It is our chance to celebrate America’s most enduring natural resource – her workers. From the man who toils in the fields to the woman who tends to her patients and the young person who works behind the cash register, this is a day when we honor the industry, innovation and ingenuity that has made America the engine of the global economy.
I can think of no better way to honor our nation’s workers on this day than to reaffirm our commitment to stand up for them each and every day. At the Department of Labor, we stand for their right to organize and bargain collectively. We stand for their right to fair wages, health care and retirement security. We stand for their right to safe, healthy, fair and diverse workplaces. And we stand for their right to job security, knowing that we won’t build tomorrow’s economy without empowering the workers of today. The thing about standing on principle is that you have to remain standing.
On this Labor Day, our hearts go out to the millions of Americans who seek work but cannot find it. And we re-dedicate ourselves to the vision of Good Jobs for Everyone. Achieving that vision is not solely the job of government. It takes businesses and teachers, communities and innovators. Tough times call on us to do more, not less; to expand, not downsize; to raise expectations, not lower them.
On behalf of the 17,000 men and women at the Department of Labor, I pledge to keep standing until the dignity of work is a possibility and reality for all Americans. We’re going to get back to work, America. Have a happy and safe Labor Day!
Seth D. Harris is the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor. For additional information on the history of Labor Day, visit www.dol.gov/laborday