I’m thankful for Labor Day and the people who made it possible – both as a worker and a mom. But we still have so much more to do.
I’m thankful I have weekends off so I can spend them with my husband and kids. I already feel like this time is so stretched; I can’t imagine having even less. But before 1937 and the work of labor unions, there was no standard 40 hour workweek. Even now, there are moms who have to work two jobs just to get by, meaning they don’t get those precious hours.
I’m thankful I get paid sick and annual leave, enabling me to take more than two months of maternity leave with each child. Even with my husband already staying home, this was invaluable time to bond with the kids, establish nursing, and get through the worst of the newborn sleep deprivation. But so many moms and dads don’t have this ability, with only 40 of private sector service workers offering paid sick leave. And hardly any employers in the U.S. – including mine – offer paid family leave, unlike in almost every other industrialized country.
I’m thankful that I can work outside of the home and make enough money that my husband can stay home with the kids. Often, when women worked outside the home, it was the least respected and the worst paid of jobs. (And yet essential to the family!) If they had a career, like a teacher or nurse, they were often forced out when they got married. Careers in science were almost impossible to enter, as Peggy Seeger wrote about in “I’m Gonna Be an Engineer.” Pay inequality is still systemic, with women consistently making 83% less than men. Even now, when more women enter a field, the pay drops.
I’m thankful my children can attend school and won’t have to work until they are developmentally ready. Up through 1938, young children worked in the U.S. to support their families. The mining industry and factories particularly valued them for their tiny hands that could reach into places no one else could. Sadly, child labor and even slavery is still common in many countries, especially the chocolate industry.
I’m thankful for the labor workers who built this country and pushed for the benefits that I enjoy. For the sake of ours and everyone’s kids, it’s more essential than ever to know both how far we’ve come on Labor Day and why we need to keep on fighting.