Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer—a three-day weekend celebrated with backyard barbecues and back-to-school sales. Officially, Labor Day pays tribute to the contributions and achievements of American workers. Its creation came only after decades of fighting against worker exploitation.
In the late 1800s, during the US Industrial Revolution, workers didn’t have a “weekend.” They labored 12-hour days, 7 days a week, in unsafe conditions, often without access to fresh air, sanitary facilities or breaks. In some parts of the country, children as young as 5 or 6 worked in mills, mines, and factories for a fraction of adult wages.
In response, labor unions organized rallies, strikes and boycotts to demand improved working conditions. Congress created Labor Day in 1894 after decades of advocacy and action by the labor movement. Change required a national reckoning.
More than a century later, we are faced with exploitation on a massive scale: 24.9 million people (children and adults) are trapped in forced labor worldwide. Of that number, more than 16 million people are exploited in the private sector, such as domestic work, construction or agriculture. An additional 4.8 million people are in forced sexual exploitation and 4 million are in forced labor imposed by state authorities. The numbers are heartbreaking and the scope of the problem is overwhelming.
It took decades to improve working conditions in this country—but labor activists didn’t give up until they achieved their goals. They organized. They advocated. They demanded an end to exploitation. The fight to eliminate human trafficking is even more vital and requires a worldwide reckoning.
LifeWay Network envisions a world in which human trafficking is abolished and every survivor is strong, connected and free.
Labor Day is over. Let’s get to work—together.
Copyright © International Labour Organization 2017; Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage, Geneva, September 2017.
Photo credit: Zeyn Afuang on Unsplash