Celebrate the workers who built this country

Published 11:05 pm Sunday, August 31, 2008

Labor Day is an important day on the calendar for many Minnesotans and Americans. It is a great opportunity to remind us all why our country and state is such good place to live and raise a family. If we want to keep it that way, we should also remind ourselves about the history of Labor Day and the Labor Movement, as well as its critical relevance still today.

The first Labor Day in the United States was celebrated in 1882 in New York City to honor the “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.” Soon the labor movement in the early 20th century erupted. Trade unions led efforts to end child labor practices, protect safety of our workers, create livable, fair wages and raise the standard of living for our entire society. In the process, organized labor helped create a robust U.S. economy by building its backbone — a strong middle class.

Labor Day is especially important this year when considering the state of our economy here in Minnesota. Our national and state economy is struggling, and a big reason is the way we have treated our workers over the past decade. Wages have remained relatively static while health care costs, food and energy prices and other costs of living have continued to rise. At the same time, economic policies have protected the ultra-wealthy at the expense of our hard-working families. We just learned that the unemployment rate hit a 25-year high in Minnesota. Something has to change.

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The strength of a nation’s economy is often seen in the strength of its middle class, and the strength of our middle class in Minnesota is our workers. If wages continue to remain stagnant and costs continue to rise, families will struggle and our economy will flounder. We need to re-commit ourselves to economic policies that promote and encourage better wages and treatment of our workers. It will result in stronger and more productive companies, increased economic output, and more jobs for Minnesotans ready to work. Families who have affordable health care and livable wages can keep up with rising costs. They can then afford to fuel our economy with their increased purchasing power for things like new homes.

For many families, Labor Day often marks the end of summer and the beginning of the school year. For college students it often marks the beginning of classes and the start of another football season. For others, it just means an extra day off. However, this upcoming Labor day especially, let’s remember what Labor Day is really all about — valuing and celebrating our workers who have built up this country and economy to what it is today, benefiting all of us in the process.

Minnesota House District 5A Rep. Tom Rukavina is a DFLer from Virginia.