Modern-Day Labor Day: Finding the Humanity in Business

By Angelica Maduell of Portland, Oregon. Angelica is a freelance writer, marketer and political activist.

The modern meaning of Labor Day is lost amongst traffic jams, crowded campgrounds, and forgetful barbecues. For most Americans, it’s simply another 3-day weekend: a day off work. For others, it’s an opportunity for overtime. For many more, it’s a Monday they have to wake up, go to work and get paid the same as every other day.

Many of those who didn’t get the day off are small business owners. These hard-working Americans are on their own in the economy, playing on a field sponsored by multi-national corporations. Outnumbered, they fight to get their voices heard above the clamor of political and profit-focused ideology. Their message proves that there isn’t just one type of business in America, and there isn’t just one voice of business.

Business is made up of individuals. Each individual person deserves the respect we would want for our neighbors, our loved ones and ourselves. Individual Americans, the media and the government need to recognize the humanity that lies beneath the bottom-line.

The Main Street Alliance of Oregon works with small business owners that are taking steps to recognize and nurture the humanity in business. The challenge these small business owners face is that their competition refuses to play by these new rules.

The American people have demanded a rules-change since before Labor Day began. The minimum wage, the 40-hour workweek, and child labor laws were the first basic recognitions of humanity won when Labor Day was young. Now workers fight for earned sick time, affordable health care, affordable childcare, and access to credit.

Each business that takes on these new rules, and each city that passes supportive proposals, is helping to turn the economy away from the single-mindedness that drove us into a recession. Profit on Wall Street should not be the only navigational tool by which we drive the American economy. We need to include employee measurements into the toolbox.

The average American’s level of stress, whether financial, emotional or physical, already silently affects the economy—and the effect has been a shrinking middle class. If we want our middle class to be restored, more businesses need to take a stand and do what’s right for the modern employee. Maybe then the meaning of Labor Day will resonate with every American, and they can celebrate the American value to uphold humanity—even in business.

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