Still Working for Equality
In the nineteenth century, American workers labored 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for pitiable wages. Children were worse off, working for only a fraction of what adults earned. Working conditions were unsafe, with no access to fresh air or sanitary facilities. People became sick. People died.
A series of rebellions finally led to reforms and to the creation of the Labor Day holiday in 1894.
Today, we honor the American labor movement and celebrate the social and economic contributions of workers. We also remember the incredible influx of women into the workforce beginning in 1942 as men were shipped to boot camp, military bases, and overseas combat. Two million women rose to the challenge over the course of World War II, staffing manufacturing plants that were vital to the war effort. However, as men began returning home, women were shunted aside, suddenly bereft of the opportunities that come when a person can earn her own money and make her own decisions.
Now, 126 years have passed since the creation of Labor Day and 75 years since the end of WWII. Women now comprise 47 percent of the workforce. But full equality in the workplace remains elusive.
While Labor Day might signify the end of summer or return to school, let it provide renewed drive and focus to us this year. Let us vow to keep our sleeves rolled up and carry on the struggle until the day comes when the size of a paycheck, or scope of opportunities, is not determined by a person’s gender.