Opinion

Labor Day’s recipe: Blood, sweat and tears

I remember when I couldn’t wait to get out of high school so I could get a job.

Surrounded by the copper mines of Arizona, the incentives to work instead of pursuing an education were more attractive to me. We all dream of having that high-paying job with little work required, but there is a price one must pay to succeed: Hard work, so that you may be rewarded for the sweat off your brows.

Labor Day reminds us to honor and celebrate the social and economic accomplishments of hard-working people. Labor Day gives tribute to the contributions workers make to the vitality, prosperity and richness of our country.

Samuel Gompers, founder of the American Federation of Labor, puts this holiday in perspective: “All other holidays are in a more or less degree connected with conflicts and battles of man’s prowess over man, of strife and discord for greed and power, of glories achieved by one nation over another. Labor Day...is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation.”

Labor Day is also a time to draw attention to the plight of the workers and their working conditions. Back in the 1800s, the average American worked 12-hour days, every day, just to make ends meet. Children were used as cheap labor. After the Civil War, the National Labor Union was formed; it had such objectives as the abolition of convict labor, establishment of the eight-hour workday, and restriction of immigration.

It seems paradoxical. History teaches us that it was the United States government that prompted a manual labor program by bringing in a “few hundred” Mexican agricultural laborers to harvest crops. It was this desperate need during World War II that started the Bracero Program. What began with a few hundred quickly grew to more than 50,000 by the mid-1940s. The government saw how “cheap” it was to bring in laborers that it also brought in more than 75,000 laborers to work on the railroads. This quick-fix program was referred to as the “guest worker program.”

From 1942-1964, the Mexican Farm Labor Program, also known as the Bracero Program, sponsored about 4.5 million border crossings of guest workers from Mexico. Then in 1954, after we opened the gate to the yellow brick road, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services developed a project named “Operation Wetback.” Its purpose was to remove 4 million immigrants from the southwestern United States.

So what is all the fuss about Labor Day? Is it the long weekend away at a camping area, going out to the water with your boat, a barbecue, or just a holiday?

I grew up appreciating the local labor union, which fought for the respect and dignity of the hard-working laborers. We forget that it was those protest marches, rallies, union meetings and the underpaid workers that fought for benefits we enjoy today.

Are we repeating history? America still needs the laborers, whether they be documented or not. The entrance of undocumented persons is out of control; we need a better system that will secure our borders from the criminal element and terrorists. Whether it be the border of Nogales, Ariz., or Blaine, Wash., there must be a system that is humane and morally right that will allow us to visit other countries — just as they want to come to America.

On Labor Day, pause and be grateful to all mankind that has labored hard. Our public servants, faith-based organizations, corporate America and yes, even the agriculture workers, all receive benefits because of our parents’ and grandparents’ sacrifices.

I give honor to every individual who is part of the American quilt of prosperity. Thanks to you, we have pay raises, vacation, health care, sick leave and more. Thank you, America!

Tito Hinojos is a Federal Way resident. Send comments to

editor@fedwaymirror.com.

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