Labor Movement Has Kept Dream of Worker Dignity Alive

Article excerpt

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Erik Humphrey

Labor scholars often argue that the United States has the bloodiest documented history of labor of any industrialized nation on Earth.

In 1619, African slaves were brought to Jamestown, Va., introducing the first enslaved workforce to Britain's North American colony. From the 1660s to the 1860s, U.S. slavery was governed by extensive bodies of law known as slave or black codes. These codes were backed by individual slave states' court decisions and legally defined slaves merely as property.

While America's labor history is rife with human tragedy, this Labor Day, let us home in on its promise, progress and future.

The cornerstone of the Declaration of Independence is that humans are endowed with certain unalienable rights - namely life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The pursuit of happiness obviously holds different meanings for different folks.

In the paradigm of labor, however, the typical standard focuses on the correlation between one's toil and subsequent compensation. Labor history holds that workers view compensation not solely in dollars, but also in terms of dignity. The labor movement's evolution indicates that dignity equates to workers having a voice regarding wages, hours worked in a day, and various working conditions such as safety, stability, cleanliness and so on.

Through legislative acts, court rulings and workers' initiatives and united struggle, improvements to labor dignity have steered ahead. By organizing unions and gaining the right to representation, the working women and men of America have been able to use the collective bargaining process to assist in keeping the dignity dream alive.

The labor movement has been a stabilizing strength in the national economy, bringing about public education for every child, 40-hour work weeks, grievance and arbitration procedures, and stability through meaningful wages, retirement benefits and health and welfare protection. …