Labor Day marks the end of summer and the time that kids go back to school. When my son was young I always felt a touch of regret that I would no longer be able to spend full, fun days with him. But it was exciting to go get school supplies and listen to what he was looking forward to in his next year at school.
I considered writing about the experience of transition every family faces in September when their children enter a new grade with new teachers and usually some new classmates, or even leave home to go to college. But then I started to think about what Labor Day is really about. It is about laborers.
As the industrial revolution took over Western culture, people were forced to work long hours in hard conditions. The labor movement worked hard to improve conditions.
Like most mothers, my first thought is with children. I think of the children who were forced to work those same hours in the same conditions. Children were often preferred because they were seen as more manageable. Reformers started to protest the working conditions of children in 1832.
Some states began to regulate child labor, but it was a slow process. Most of these states were in the north initially. Business moved south to prevent any regulation of child labor.
The National Child Labor Committee worked to end child labor and combined with efforts to provide free, compulsory education for all children. This culminated in the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, the first federal standards for child labor.
We have come a long way. Children are now protected in so many ways. As a child advocate I know the areas within which we need improvement, but we are light years ahead of where we were a hundred years ago.
We have the relief of knowing our children are heading off to learn, make friends, have fun, and grow. They can’t even comprehend conditions young children faced before the Labor Movement stood up for them, and I’m glad of that. They get to be kids.
But as adults we really should think of that from time to time and feel gratitude for those people who stood up, protested, and even died, to make working conditions safe for everyone. But I especially think of the children whose labor now is to get good grades and play nice with others.