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Your Turn: Every pandemic fighter should be remembered on Labor Day

Everyone knows that Labor Day is a federal holiday in America celebrated on the first Monday in September in any given year (i.e., a single day from Sept. 1 through 7) to honor and recognize the American labor movement and the works and contributions of laborers to the development and achievements of the United States.

Many students of American history, as well as some laborers, know that in 1894 Congress passed a bill recognizing this day and making it an official federal holiday. President Grover Cleveland signed the bill into law on June 28 of that year.

The federal law, however, made it a holiday for only federal workers. As late as the 1930s, unions were encouraging workers to strike to make sure they got the day off.

All U.S. states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories have subsequently made Labor Day a statutory holiday.

Until the global pandemic of 2020, American laborers usually referred to blue-collar workers, most of whom were union members. I submit that all workers in any job, career or profession who have labored, often above and beyond the call of duty, to fight the pandemic and save lives should be recognized, as they were last year, even more so in 2021, because their struggle to save American lives is far from over.

Professionals such as doctors, nurses, health care workers in hospitals and nursing homes, teachers at every level of education, for example, have labored in the last year and a half beyond what they expected when they entered their professions.

On a personal note, I come from a family of laborers, most of whom had blue-collar jobs which served citizens in the state of Connecticut, where their ancestors settled after arriving in America at the beginning of the 20th century. Many of the following generation of my family were able to get a college education because of the labors of their fathers and mothers. A few became teachers, which has always been challenging work, never more so than during the last year and a half.

The well-known American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote “A Psalm of Life” in 1838. It focuses on the challenges and struggles of work then and how one might respond to them. In the poem’s final stanza, Longfellow concludes by encouraging all of us:

“Let us, then, be up and doing,

With a heart for any fate;

Still achieving, still pursuing,

Learn to labor and to wait.”

Americans have had to labor as never before since the spring of last year and they still have to wait to see a more definitive victory over the pandemic. As we have heard many times in the media since then, Americans have never stopped laboring until their goals were achieved. However we chose to celebrate Labor Day this year, let us pause to honor those who continue to labor to save lives and to rebuild a democratic nation which honors its promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Jim Izzo is a retired teacher living in Mystic.

 

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