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Labor Day

September 4th is Labor Day in the United States, a time to honor the contributions of American workers to a free and prosperous society.

The story of American labor is a story of enterprise, vision, and hard work that transformed a wilderness into the world's greatest economic power. It is a story of people from many nations who became one nation, of employees who became employers, of slaves who became free citizens, and of citizens who made government their servant, not their master.

Working conditions for Americans in the early days of the republic were difficult and often dangerous. Workers, including children, often toiled long hours for low pay in unsafe conditions. The unemployed, including the sick, the injured, and the aged, depended for the most part on charity for their survival. Workers attempting to organize to improve these conditions faced loss of employment, arrest, and sometimes violence.

But American workers had basic rights guaranteed by the Constitution. These included freedom of speech, press, and assembly. They were protected against arbitrary arrest, detention without trial, compulsory labor, and other abuses. Most important, they had the right to change their government and to elect representatives to change existing laws and enact new ones.

Working within their democratic system, American workers formed labor unions and won the right to bargain collectively. The key to collective bargaining was the right to strike until the union's demands were met or a compromise reached. Unfair labor practices, such as phony unions manipulated by employers, were outlawed. Violence by both companies and unions was suppressed.

American workers used their political power to make U.S. labor standards among the world's highest. Safe working conditions, fair wages, unemployment insurance, restrictions on child labor, an eight-hour working day, and other benefits became law. Discrimination in employment based on race, sex, religion, or ethnic background was prohibited. Social security and health care were provided for the aged and the disabled.

American labor leader Samuel Gompers once said that "what is the right of one man is the right of many." American workers, through peaceful, democratic means, have successfully asserted rights that workers everywhere deserve.

The preceding was an editorial reflecting American ideals and institutions.