There is no better time than Labor Day to reflect on the words of American philosopher George Santayana (1863-‐1952) who said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
“Did you know that American trade unions are firmly rooted in the Pilgrims arriving at Plymouth Rock in 1620? Colonial America saw the arrival of early unions (also known as guilds) comprised of carpenters, cabinet makers, cordwainers (luxury shoe and boot makers) and cobblers. These very workers played a considerable role in the Founding Fathers’ great effort for independence. While we learned about the Boston Tea Party in 1773 during our school days, did you know that carpenters disguised as Mohawk Indians were the “host” group?
And there’s more American history directly tied into the labor movement. Carpenters Hall in Philadelphia was the site of both the First Continental Congress in 1774 and the 1776 signing of the Declaration of Independence. Taking the most memorable phase from the Declaration, “Life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” printers were the first to go on strike in 1794 in New York, seeking shorter hours and higher pay. The movement was set in motion: Cabinet makers struck in 1796, carpenters in Philadelphia in 1797, and cordwainers in 1799.
This brings us to 2012 and Santana’s quotation. In the words of U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis, “Unions are still a crucial and articulate voice in advocating for workers and keeping families in the middle class…Having that voice makes a difference in all of our lives. The people who teach our children, the nurses who care for us when we are sick, the firefighters who run into burning buildings or the police who patrol the streets while we sleep need and deserve that voice, too. And when they have it, those of us who depend on them benefit from it.”
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