TIME: Beyond Labor Day; 3 Ways Unions Have Helped American Workers

Labor News

Crowds gather to watch the long lines of workers march down Main Street in the 1910 Labor Day Parade. From the collection of the Rochester Public Library Local History Division.

Reprinted from TIME by Peter Cole on August 30, 2019.

Bumper stickers aren’t known for being the most trustworthy sources of historical fact, but the one that proclaims that weekends are “brought to you by the labor movement” gets it exactly right. If anything, it doesn’t go far enough.

Indeed, employers and elected leaders did not implement the five-day workweek out of the goodness of their hearts. Rather, workers and their unions agitated lobbied, organized, struck and voted for decades to achieve these gains. As Frederick Douglass, the legendary African American activist, once declared: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

A complete list of the ways labor changed American history would be immeasurably long—but, for Labor Day, here are three of the top ways unions helped American workers:

Unions help win the 8-hour day

When the industrial revolution commenced in the early 19th century, industrial workers toiled as long as farmers did: from sunup until sundown. Ten-, 12-, and even 14-hour days were common in mills and factories as well as printshops, restaurants and retail stores. …

TIME 8/30

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About Jeffrey Burman 5298 Articles
Jeff Burman served on the Guild’s Board of Directors from 1992 to 2019. He is now retired. He can be reached at jeffrey.s.burman.57@gmail.com.

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