Today is Labor Day and I decided to go for a hike at Pakim Pond and on the Cranberry Trail rather than a party another friend was hosting. When I got home from the hike with friend, Barbara Solem, and my dog Trixie, I felt that I should have done something to mark the holiday which has had so prominent a place in my life, so I went to pay my respects at the grave of Peter J. Maguire.
Arlington Cemetery is in the 1600 block of Cover Road in Pennsauken, a place I know well as my ex-husband lived nearby on Cove Rd. when we were dating as teens.
There was a large and glorious wreath placed at the imposing monument to Peter J. Maguire, father of Labor Day, who many feel died an early death due to the heartbreak and the demands of the brutal struggle that has always been the Labor Movement in America.
Here is what I owe to the Labor Movement: My father, Joseph Robert Wright, began his work life after his service in World War II, as a laborer in the Ironwork and Structural Steel field. It is a hard and dangerous line of work. The laborers however were protected by their union, the AFof L, CIO, Ironworkers and Structural Steel Union. Through the union, the men were guaranteed coverage if they were hurt on the job, decent benefits, and a fair wage so that men like my father, who had sacrificed so much in the war, could now come home, start a family and buy a nice home in the suburbs of New Jersey.
My father was able to support a wife and five children comfortably on his wage and his salary as he rose in the company. He also worked as treasurer of the Union for many years, and at night, my mother would clear off the dining room table and my father would work late into the night, keeping the books accurate and up to date. He was a remarkable and honorable man and I am fortunate to have had a father like him.
Also, as a teacher, I am indebted to the work of the American Federation of Teachers and the scale they set for all other educators and associations of teachers. I am retired today with a decent pension and benefits package to keep me in my old age thanks to their efforts. And as various state politicians try from time to time to steal away our pension money, which was collected from our wages and invested for us, the union continues to work to prevent that.
So many people fought and died so that the American Working Class, the men and women who built this fine nation, could have dignity and fair treatment in the work arena, that the least I can do, each year on Labor Day is think of them and thank them in my heart for their work. My grandmothers were seamstresses. My grandfathers were laborers. All the lives of working people in every field were enriched and enhanced by the sacrifices of heroes such as Mother Jones and Joe Hill, among others.
By the way to read more about Peter J. Maguire, go to All About Pennsauken, an essay by Robert Fisher Hughes, a fine local historian ans writer who did an excellent job on Maguire's work and life.
Happy Labor Day!