Monday is Labor Day. The historical roots of this day trace back to the last part of the nineteenth century. It was a time when the labor movement was forming in our country. The right of collective bargaining and belonging to a union was being established. It was not always a smooth process. And though union membership is shrinking today, this was an important phase in our national history.
On the first Monday of September, we stop many of our usual activities as schools close, banks and other financial institutions take the day off, and only the essential government services are open. It is a national holiday.
In fact, we have Labor Day on the First Monday of September, while most of the world observe the day on May 1 because of what happened in Chicago in 1886. There was a bombing in Chicago and President Grover Cleveland called for the emphasis to fall in September instead of May so it would not seem that nation was supporting such violence. There was already a “Labor Parade” in early September in New York City so President Cleveland chose that date.
We still have Labor Day, but we see much less focus on organized labor in our nation than in earlier years. In the last few decades, we have seen much of our nation’s manufacturing base shrink. And it was in manufacturing that the organized labor movement was at its strongest. Even in the smaller labor force we have seen the percentage that is a part of organized labor shrink from twenty percent in 1983 to just over eleven percent in 2013.
I think one great reason for Labor Day is to help us realize how dependent we are on each other. Though we take great pride in our culture the importance of the individual, none of us could survive without others. It truly takes a family, a community, and a nation for us to survive.
I do not grow any of the food that I eat, nor do I prepare much of it. I do not create any of the sources of energy that we are all so dependent on. Others serve to keep us safe at home and on the world stage. And I must confess I have never sown a single piece of clothing that I wear.
The list of how each of us is dependent on the labors of others would be very long. Others teach our future generations. Others help heal and cure us when we sick or injured. Others cut our hair and clean our clothes. Still, others maintain the multi ways we communicate together so we can be a community. And still, others lead our community, our state, our nation so we can live a society of law and order.
When I go to buy what I need to live, I am dependent on many who have been a part of the manufacturing and transporting what is needed. And of course, in most cases those who are in retail. The list could go on, but as I hope you see, we need at least a day to stop and realize that it is the labor of many that make it all possible for each of us.
Another important reason to observe Labor Day is the importance of making sure our community has a culture that encourages and supports economic growth. The last decade has seen unemployment dramatically drop. While our level is close to the statewide average, we must remember that many cities our size are not doing as well. Our medium household income as grown in this same decade from near 30,000.00 to over 55,000.00. We must not take this for granted. Covington’s prosperity gives us good reason to celebrate Labor Day 2019.
Our Mayor during most of this decade, Ronnie Johnston has as one of his major goals, zero unemployment. He says this means, “That everyone in the City of Covington has the opportunity to have the career that he or she wants and will have that chance to prosper. I want our children’s children to have the same opportunity.”
This progress towards this vision can be seen in a variety of ways. One is the improvement of our transportation infrastructure. Major road construction is happening in the east on Highway 278, as well work on Route 142 and Alcovy Road. There is the new rail spur being built to the US Corrugated plant as well as the new terminal and expanded runway at our Airport.
Progress can be seen in the growth of established industry such as the expansion at Nisshinbo Automotive Manufacturing that brought 100 new jobs. This same growth is seen in the almost million dollar refurbishing of Kroger as well as the return of Burger King to Covington.
Our economic progress that we celebrate this Labor Day takes the work of the entire community. Our schools play a vital part as during this past decade we have been the High School graduation rate grow more than 15%. Georgia Piedmont Technical College, the Newton County School System, Georgia State University, and the Georgia Bioscience Training Center all help prepare people towards their goals.
One great impact here was when the City of Covington joined with Georgia Tech to offer the LEAP program that gave over 250 scholarships for local residents to receive training inf Logistics.
We can also celebrate the continuing work in the film and TV industry that again shows we are “The Hollywood of the South.” Work is beginning on Town Center and the new Central Park as this economic growth touches the entire city.
While the meaning has evolved for the day, it is still one of the most nationally observed holidays. It was one of the first of the “three-day” weekend holidays that has proven so popular that we move some holidays around to create more of them. I wish you a safe and happy holiday tomorrow. Whatever you would have done on Monday will be waiting for you on Tuesday. Let us celebrate our community is on the upswing!
B. Wiley Stephens is a retired United Methodist Minister and author who now resides in Covington. He is the father-in-law to Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston.