Employment and Jobs

Reflecting on Labor Day

September 3, 2018  • Maureen Conway

Happy Labor Day! As we take this break from work to spend time with our family and friends, catch up on errands, or just relax, we should also take a moment to reflect on what this day is for.

The holiday originated from a march of thousands of workers in New York in September 1882, who took unpaid time to march in the streets of New York City. Workers then were organizing to improve the conditions of industrial labor—to improve health and safety conditions, reduce working hours, and receive fair pay for a day’s work. Then, working 12-hour days, seven days a week in loud, dirty and dangerous conditions was common. Worker organizing and political action brought a set of standards for industrial work that reduced work hours, improved pay and working conditions, eliminated child labor, and transformed industrial work into the jobs that became the foundation for the emergence of the American middle class.

Today we have a post-industrial economy presenting a new set of challenges for working people. But while the particulars of schedules, working conditions, and skill demands may be different, the essential issue remains: Can we design a world of work in which working people have the chance to earn a decent living and live a decent life? Labor Day offers an opportunity to consider how we build a world of work that can again be the foundation of a stable, vibrant society with broad-based prosperity.

These questions are central to the work of the Aspen Institute’s Economic Opportunities Program, and we’ve been inspired by many leaders and partners who are also working on these issues, and the many innovative ideas they are pursuing. Indeed, as I shared in a blog at the start of the year, it is our firm belief that there is not a singular solution to building a better world of work, but many approaches working together will be needed. To celebrate Labor Day, we share a few highlights of work—from worker ownership to advocacy to business strategy and more—that can be part of a strategy for better work.

In May, we featured several companies as well as a member of Congress in a conversation on Employee Ownership. We’re inspired about the ways both business leaders and policy makers are considering how working people can have more of a stake in the success of the companies in which they work, and the potential for employee ownership to build better jobs, strengthen businesses, and contribute to strong communities. The recent passage of the Main Street Employee Ownership Act, offers an opportunity to accelerate this trend.

Supporting skills and education that can facilitate success at work and access to better jobs have also been areas of innovation. Upskill America, in conjunction with i4cp, created a new tool for employers looking to develop tuition assistance programs and help their workers learn new skills. This is the first a series of tools from Upskill to help employers invest in their workers. But again, skills and education can’t address all the challenges in today’s labor market, and in a piece in Fast Company I outline both strengths and limitations of workforce training, and how complementary investments in other strategies can improve the likelihood that training will lead to economic success for workers and for business.

Over the past year we’ve had the privilege of working with the Job Quality Fellows. These innovators come from business and labor, from workforce development, economic development, community development finance and more, and are focused on opportunities to shape a world of work in which working people can thrive.

While many have been concerned about how technology is changing the world of work, as I wrote with Mark Popovich for Spotlight on Poverty, work remains a human institution governed by human choices. We’re excited to see the work that many leaders are engaged in to build a better world of work and expect to see and learn much more about these efforts. We look forward to continuing to work with you and hope you enjoy this Labor Day holiday.

 

Share

Can we design a world of work in which working people have the chance to earn a decent living and live a decent life? @conway_maureen shares her thoughts on the issues we face in today’s economy.

#LaborDay offers an opportunity to consider how we build a world of work that can again be the foundation of a stable, vibrant society with broad-based prosperity.

Today we have a post-industrial economy presenting a new set of challenges for working people than the ones the first #LaborDay marchers confronted over a century ago. But many of their central questions remain.

 

Keep in touch

Learn how the Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program is helping low- and moderate-income Americans connect to and thrive in a changing economy. Follow us on social media and join our mailing list to stay up-to-date on publications, blog posts, and other announcements.

 

Related
Employment and Jobs
Expanding Economic Opportunity: Ideas for Sustainable Change
January 2, 2018 • Maureen Conway