Ah, Labour Day. You are finally here. Heralding the end of summer, the beginning of a new academic year and the last of white trousers and cottage weekends. Every year, your arrival is bittersweet.
But other than it being the final long weekend of summer, have you ever wondered why Labour Day exists? I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I only learned of its true origins a few years ago.
I was six months pregnant, tired and trying to rest. I picked up my phone to check through social media and saw the news of a garment factory collapse in Bangladesh. How terrible, I thought and scrolled on. But in the coming hours and days the news kept rolling in and I found it more and more difficult to click past. As I began to read, the true scale and horror of the disaster began to emerge as eventually, 1,137 people would be found killed, approximately 2,500 injured and 200 still missing.
These numbers alone were enough to cause a deep sense of anger, injustice and sheer disbelief at the inhumane way people were treated and expected to work for their livelihood but it was this article which caught my breath and turned my stomach. The retailers on that list were ones I had supported without any concern. The Children’s Place, Primark, Matalan, Mango… Joe Fresh?! All places where I bought clothes not only for myself but for my children.
The thought came to me: Were my children wearing clothes that other children’s parents had suffered for? Would they wear clothes that other parents had died while making? And to what end? So I could bag another discount?!
I decided then and there that the baby we were soon to welcome into the world, this perfect blessed gift to us, would in no way collaborate in this nefarious situation. This would be our Fair Trade Baby and we would do our best to make sure that all things connected to it were ethically sourced and fairly made, with the least harm to people and the planet. I’ll be the first to admit, it’s not easy, but as much as we can, it has been worth it.
This was a completely new paradigm – and one I hope to detail more about in future blog posts – but I knew the first step was to research and learn about how goods were made, including a refresh on the history of industrialisation and the workers movement. And it was there that I finally realised that the end of summer Labour Day is supposed to celebrate (surprise!) the Labour Movement.
This day is meant to highlight and celebrate the contributions of workers, movements that championed change for working people, and the achievements of workers rights. I learned this included many things we take for granted, like the establishment of an eight-hour work day, the end of child labour and equitable workers compensation.
However, as noble as the founding of this holiday – and its continued celebration – is, in this age of intense global inequality, the conditions of working people continue to decline as companies and international employers squeeze out humane practices for increased profits. And lest we think that this is a problem limited to “other countries”, just have a look at how ruthless employment contracts can devastate vulnerable families.
It is up to us to remain vigilant about what is going on out there and do whatever is possible within our spheres of influence to affect positive change.
So, if you are lucky enough to have the day off today, spend a few moments of it reading up and supporting those people and efforts around the world who continue to fight for better working conditions for all:
USA The United States is one of three countries in the world without legislated paid family leave. This disgraceful fact leaves countless families and children vulnerable. Sign this petition calling all presidential candidates to commit to supporting mandatory paid family leave within their first 100 days in office.
CANADA You can’t work or provide effectively for your family if you lack basic necessities like clean drinking water. Learn about the appalling lack of safe drinking water for First Nations communities and then sign this letter calling on PM Justin Trudeau’s government to do something about it.
UK As refugees from around the world continue to run for their lives, many are left stranded in countries which won’t grant them the right to live or work. Think global but act local by learning about how to help those arriving in the UK, join your nearest group and write your MP.
Together, we know that change is possible. Which movements for decent work and a better world do you support? Would love to hear how you mark Labour Day!