One of today’s Google doodles recognizes “Labour Day 2015” or “Labor Day” depending on where you are in the world. Although we celebrate Labor Day in September here in the United States, much of the world chooses today to recognize the contributions of workers. Regardless, we definitely have something to celebrate today. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that workers in the first quarter received their biggest annual gain in pay since 2008.
The May 1st date is believed to have started in Chicago, with a call from the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, a predecessor to the AFL-CIO, that proclaimed eight hours a legal day’s labor starting on May 1, 1886. More than 300,000 workers across the United States walked off their jobs on that day. On May 4th, a confrontation between police and workers during a led to loss of life on both sides, and the incident is believed to have started the worldwide movement.
The struggle for an eight hour work day very much reminds me of the movement for a living wage today. The movement for $15 an hour so that no worker has to live in poverty has spread across the United States quickly and has seen success in a few different locations already. More can be expected as government and businesses realize that their attempts to maximize profits by minimizing pay simply aren’t sustainable. They externalize costs on the rest of society and don’t promote a stable and happy workforce.
I remember a few years ago during the financial crisis when union workers in the auto industry were lambasted for their salaries and benefits. Instead of bringing them down, the better goal should have been to find a way to bring everyone else up to a sustainable wage. We might be heading there today if the movement continues to have success.
Protests in the United States are nothing new. Our country was founded on them. The question is always whether they lead to meaningful change or fizzle out. The Occupy Wall Street movement was able to gain a lot of attention when it protested treatment of the common person in the United States. But very little real change was implemented as a result of all of the publicity. The calls for a living wage have been much more successful.
The next few years should be interesting as businesses implement wage increases in order to comply with the new government laws or simply satisfy their unhappy employees. Will they drive businesses to cut hours and raise prices? Or are the businesses opposing wage increases wrong and simply being greedy? Either way, it seems like we are living at a turning point in the power struggle between business and labor.
So I thought we would dedicate a post to the workers that we help today. We spend a lot of time discussing corporate misconduct and the technical rules of whistleblowing here. But we do so to help the individuals that bravely walk into our door to change the world for the better. To them and the other people working to make society better for employees:
Happy International Workers’ Day!