America is a country founded on hard work and initiative. Of course, in true American fashion, we needed to have a holiday celebrating these attributes. So on the first Monday in September, families all over the country buy up all the hamburgers and hot dogs, load up all the coolers, gas up the grill, and hit the backyard to bask in all the glory that is Labor Day. Although this is the nation’s chosen method of celebrating, it is quite different from Labor Day’s humble beginnings observed solely by the Central Labor Union over 100 years ago. While there seems to be some disagreement over who exactly founded Labor Day, research seems to support that Matthew Maguire proposed the idea while serving as the secretary of the CLU in New York. The earliest recorded Labor Day party is September 5, 1882 which was in the form of a street parade. Throughout the years, the celebrations have gotten bigger, but the reason behind it has stayed the same. Simply put, Americans are fully committed to the tradition of recognizing hard work and diligence.
Much of our country’s history has revolved around protecting workers, especially those in the agricultural, blue collar, or industrial fields. After the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted to focus on relief and recovery for the poor and unemployed. Much of his first term was spent passing legislation from a historic social program called the New Deal. Even looking back as far as the Industrial Revolution, there are many reports of labor disputes over wages and working conditions. Many different trades have unions organized by their employees to protect the workers. Some of these unions date all the way back to 1866 with the founding of the National Labor Union.
In recognition of Labor Day and all of its historical significance, it is important to take a moment to reflect on the fact that, although we have come a long way as a country, there is still a big problem that is all too often left unaddressed. Labor trafficking statistics are alarmingly high and continuing to grow. The International Labour Organization estimates that there are about 21 million people worldwide are victims of forced labor. A report done by the Urban Institute shows that while some of these workers are undocumented, a shocking 71% had actually come to the US on a visa. The US Department of Justice describes this crime as a bait and switch type of con. The targets are usually people living in unfavorable conditions that do not have many options in their life, most of the people from third world countries. They are offered a completely misrepresented employment opportunity in America for a fee. This fee can range from $6000 to $21000, a range that is more than many of these families make in a year. The traffickers will claim that the workers are indebted to them for these fees. They are then brought here and forced to live in deplorable conditions and work extremely difficult jobs. After many deductions are taken from their wages including the original fees, the victims end up with very little, if any, money. They are also subject to mental, physical, and sexual abuse in addition to being deprived of basic necessities.
Among the many ways to fight labor trafficking, the easiest and often times, most effective way is education and awareness. Simple things like becoming aware of your Slavery Footprint and checking out the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced By Child Labor or Forced Labor, can be a great start in combating this growing problem. America has always been a country that has protected its workers, and we can continue doing so well into the future. So this weekend, try to take some time to educate yourself and those around you. Do your part to ensure that America remains the “Land of the Free”.