Labor Day honors work

For most, the nature of labor has changed radically in the last couple of decades – even on Maui. Calluses have been exchanged for carpal tunnel syndrome. Bending backs have been exchanged for sitting in desk chairs and standing behind counters.

In the last half century, Maui has gone from plantation and ranch jobs – most of them requiring manual labor – to retailing and service-sector jobs. That’s in line with what is happening across the country. The United States, once the major producer of goods in the world, has become a nation that buys goods rather than manufacturing them.

Today, the very technology that helped make the U.S. worker among the most productive in the world eliminates jobs at the same pace it creates jobs. Although different, labor is still labor – hours spent earning a living for yourself and your family. Labor Day is a holiday that uniquely honors no individual, no battle or national achievement, but does honor all those who work.

The first “workingmen’s holiday” was called in 1882 by the Central Labor Union in New York City. Oregon was the first state to recognize the holiday, in 1887. President Grover Cleveland, who had called out federal troops to break a railroad workers’ strike and who opposed the annexation of Hawaii by the United States, declared the first federal Labor Day in 1894.

The first Maui Labor Day celebration noted by The Maui News was in 1913, but it wasn’t until 1944 that a union forged the first labor contract on Maui. The union was the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the firm was Maui Electric. It would take two more years before the International Longshore and Warehouse Workers Union organized plantation workers in a move that would revolutionize life in the islands.

Today is a day off from labor for many, but it is still a good time to pay homage to all the gnarled hands that built a community and a country.

(This editorial has appeared previously in The Maui News.)

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.