Legislatively Speaking – Happy Labor Day

By Senator, Lena C. Taylor

State Senator Lena C. Taylor

Labor Day celebrates the contributions of working people to our common American dream. Today, I feel that Labor Day seems natural and eternal. I think about all the memories I’ve had of cook-outs and barbeques, parades and picnics. To me, Labor Day means family. To me, Labor Day is as American as apple pie or Abraham Lincoln.

But you and I both know that there was a time before Labor Day. There was a time before the eight-hour work day or weekends. Then again, for many of my constituents working two or three jobs, the fight for a living wage isn’t over, is it? The legacy of Labor Day is an ongoing legacy, not a battle fought and left behind. Labor Day stands, stubbornly, as an annual reminder that the fight for a fair and dignified working life goes on.

One hundred years ago, we shared in an American culture unafraid to celebrate labor’s contribution to fairness and community. Between 1887 and 1894, thirty states officially began celebrating Labor Day. Nowadays, can you imagine someone like Governor Walker taking time out of his day to declare a celebration of the average Joe or Jane? I know I can’t. It seems like Governor Walker rakes in praise for insulting and attacking working people’s dignity. I have to ask myself, “What is happening to the American character?”

Every day, hard-working men and women are still working and struggling to pay the rent. On the north side of Milwaukee, a lot of us still know the value of solidarity, compassion and justice. Moreover, we recognize that these are the same positive values that motivate the labor movement. Other folks, however, have fallen victim to despair and fear.

The lot of conservatives seem enamored with the myth of the so-called “job creators”. You’ve heard the campaign ads extolling the virtues of these big men in suits (have you noticed that they’re almost always men?) Now, I can’t deny business leaders are important pillars of our communities.

However, some of our most important businesses aren’t big businesses, and some of our most important wealth creators aren’t remotely wealthy. Call me crazy, but I don’t think we should have to look to big businesses with fear in our hearts. The same goes for government, schools or any other employer. Without the hard work of their employees, business owners wouldn’t own successful businesses and our schools wouldn’t turn out successful students. You see, we are all partners in our great American dream. From its beginning, the labor movement’s goal has been to ensure that all the partners get the respect they deserved. That goal may still be coming, but I believe we shall overcome.

Every Sunday, church helps to remind us we need to hold on to our values. Without humility, fellowship and joy, our community would suffer. Sometimes, I need church to remind me about my true values. Labor Day also helps remind us of our true values. Every year or so, America needs to be reminded of the importance of solidarity, compassion and justice. Without annual holidays like Labor Day, I think we would risk forgetting these crucial American beliefs.

The so-called “job creating” bullies like the Koch brothers have plenty of time and money. It is easy for them to remind us all how important they are. Most people, on the other hand, are busy working for the American dream. The average working man or woman is just as important, but they do not have a microphone to shout it out. This labor day, we’ll celebrate and shout it out together.