The holiday was conceived as a working man’s holiday in the 19th century as a product of the labor movement.
The first Labor Day was observed in New York on Sep. 5, 1882, a Tuesday. However, according to the U.S. Department of Labor there is debate on its exact origins.
There are indications that a representative of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners named Peter J. McGuire, who was a cofounder of the American federation of Labor, suggested a day to honor people who had worked to better the country’s industry.
Other evidence points to a machinist named Peter McGuire as the one who proposed the holiday while he was secretary of the Central Labor Union.
Whichever of these men was the true founder, both of them had the intention of using the day as a demonstration to promote the rights for workers.
The nation gave increasing attention to this cause. States began passing laws in recognition of the holiday. In 1894, Congress decreed that the Labor Day would be observed on the first Monday in September.
However, Labor Day this year may have lost some of its meaning to many around here. The recession has hit Talladega County hard. The unemployment rate here is at an all-time high, with an average of 12.5 percent so far this year. This is a vast increase from last year’s average rate of 6.5 percent.
Nearby St. Clair County’s average unemployment rate for the year so far is 9.3 percent. The pattern mimics Talladega County’s, as St’ Clair’s average last year was 4.5 percent.
The national unemployment rate in August was 9.7 percent, the highest it’s been in 26 years. Calvin Miller, Executive Director of the Talladega County Economic Development Authority, said the August data for Talladega County should be available in a few weeks.
Local officials like Miller believe the worst may be behind us and next year will bring about a turning point in our economic shape.
Miller said the economy tends to follow U or W-shaped patterns, in which employment inevitably rises after low periods. He said Talladega County’s economy is representative of the national one, and it’s advancing.
“We’ll recover eventually. We just don’t know how or when,” he said.
Miller said the trouble Talladega County has experienced lately is expected because rural areas usually suffer more during a recession because large companies tend to build in larger, metro areas during those times.
He said another reason behind the high unemployment is due to people unable to get credit and businesses unable to secure loans.
He noted that another local problem is that Talladega County is not diversified enough in its industries. He said too much dependence on industries such as automotives or housing can get areas in trouble when those industries encounter trouble as a whole.
Miller said TC Economic Development Authority is working to bring other businesses in.
In the meantime, he said the companies that are here that were facing trouble have already started turning around. Some are even expanding.
For example, Miller said Honda Manufacturing of Alabama recently brought on 400 employees. HMA spokesman Mark Morrison said these are temporary employees from Elwood Staffing.
“We’re pleased that we’re seeing an increase demand for our products, and we’re taking steps to keep up with the demand,” Morrison said of the increase.
Officials at the St. Clair County Economic Development Council are also optimistic about their area’s future as its unemployment rate has already dropped slightly between June and July.
Don Smith is the Interim Executive Director of SCCEDC. He said St. Clair’s primary industries are automotives, construction and food production, and it’s fairly diversified in its industrial makeup. He said St. Clair houses companies from Europe, Japan and Australia and credits this diversification as being able to help the area out of the recession.
“A good economic organization will always try to diversify the community’s economy,” he said.
Smith said the recession has definitely affected every area of industry in the country. However, he believes unemployment will drop.
“The first half of 2009 turned out worse than most thought, but companies are hiring again and taking advantage of low construction costs,” he said.
He noted SCCEDC is working on a number of projects to bring in new businesses.
Smith also stated that he believes more companies will be setting up shop all over Alabama. He said this is a right-to-work state with favorable tax structures. He said that projections have shown the southeast to be the fastest growing market in the country.
The hope is that businesses will follow that market and next year’s Labor Day will give more people the opportunity to refer to it as a day off.