Meet John Doe: Labor unions gave us Labor Day and longer life spans

August 27, 2014

Paul Gorski

Paul Gorski

By Paul Gorski

According to the U.S. Department of Labor website, http://www.dol.gov/laborday/history.htm: “Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. … The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on Sept. 5, 1883.”

This history was apparently news to some Rockford City Council members as they recently debated whether to issue a permit for this year’s Labor Day Parade. Yes, organized labor worked to create and sponsor the Labor Day holiday for more than 100 years.

As this year’s Labor Day neared, I reminisced about a friend and union activist, Mel Paris, who passed away last year. For the union critics out there, Mel could have made a union believer out of you. Mel was a strong activist for organized labor, but he brought a thoughtful, diplomatic and mentoring attitude to his activism. He focused on the needs of workers, recognizing we could be a stronger community if we worked as a team. He was firm, but polite, and always committed to people: family, friends and neighbors.

Mel inspired me years ago to research the labor movement in the United States. Not only did organized labor advocate for a shorter workweek and workplace safety protections, but also helped extend our life spans. Workplace safety measures, even more so than modern medicine, helped extend the life spans of working Americans. Fewer workplace accidents and reducing the chance of simply being worn out over time lets us live longer lives. Add to that modern medicine, and it is no wonder why many of us expect to live into our 70s and 80s.

While you are mulling that over, labor unions also work to protect your rights to free speech and freedom of assembly. You have the right to associate and organize. Any attempt to prevent you from doing so is an attempt to deny you your Constitutional rights. Regardless of your opinion of labor unions, they work to protect your rights.

At this point, union leaders might be thinking, “Nice article,” while detractors are thinking, “Hooey.” My message to both sides is: we all benefit from a labor movement spearheaded by thoughtful, conscientious labor leaders sensitive to the needs of their membership, business and the community. Take the time during this holiday, and one would hope your extended life span, to consider that. Be like “Mel.”

Please share with other readers your positive labor union experiences, either by writing a letter to the editor, or posting a comment online at http://www.rockrivertimes.com.

Paul Gorski (paul@paulgorski.com) is a Cherry Valley Township resident who also authors the Tech-Friendly column seen in this newspaper.

From the Aug. 27-Sept. 2, 2014, issue

One Comment

  1. Kayla

    September 9, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    Paul, from Mel’s granddaughter: thanks. I try to be, every day, researching labor history in class. Today, I speak with very few people who care as much about the soul of unions as he did, so the knowledge that he might have touched your life leaves me unspeakably glad.

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