With American businesses faltering, tens of thousands of employees losing their jobs and the stock market tumbling, the first Labor Day of the 21st century is not the most auspicious for many U.S. workers. When the men and women who pay their families' bills read the economic news, they may find it difficult to be in a celebratory mood today.
Nevertheless, the United States remains the wealthiest and most productive nation in the world, in no small part thanks to the efforts of those Americans who work in every part of the private and public sectors. The American economy on a bad day is still far better than the best day in any other nation in the world.
In fact, it is America's strength, well-being and prosperity that stimulates the prosperity of the rest of the world. And it is American labor standards against which others are measured -- and too frequently are found wanting.
Slavery: How many millions of workers in other nations are virtually enslaved? How many children work long hours under unimaginably inhumane conditions? How many workers in too many other countries cannot even comprehend the notion of a day's pay for a day's work, of a decent living wage, or of a safe working environment?
And worse, how many women in nations like Afghanistan are denied any opportunity to support themselves and their children? And how many women and children are sold into sexual slavery, to suffer violence, disease and early death?
For such workers, there is no 40-hour work week, no sick leave, no paid vacations, no health plans, no expectation of retirement -- for that matter, no expectation of old age. For them, there is no Labor Day -- only laboring days and nights.
Honor: In that context, this 120th Labor Day is even more worthy of acknowledgment as the working men and women of America can honor each other and themselves.
Samuel Gompers, founder and longtime president of the American Federation of Labor, described Labor Day as essentially different from many other holidays of the year in any country. He said, & quot;All other holidays are in a more or less degree connected with conflicts and battles of man's prowess over man, of strife and discord for greed and power, of glories achieved by one nation over another. Labor Day ... is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation. & quot;
No, Labor Day is devoted to all men and all women whose contributions have made life better for their families, their communities and this nation.