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Why Beloit College Should Celebrate Labor Day

On September 2ndAmericans across the country woke up late, spent time with family, and maybe barbequed in the backyard. There were; however, around 1,000 people who instead got up at their usual hour and went about their days as normal. Beloit College held classes on Labor Day even though it is a national holiday and marks an important point in American history. The holiday recognizes and celebrates the American worker and Labor Movements of the 19thand 20thcenturies. It does not celebrate American companies nor American industry, but rather the people that make our country run. It celebrates the people that make our products, teach our children, pick up our waste, and many other much needed services. And for Beloit College to ignore such a holiday not only shows that the institution disregard for our nation’s workers, but also shows a severe disconnect with the local community.

Rockford and the surrounding area was a major union stronghold in the late 19thand early 20thcenturies and still is home to over 20 labor unions to this day. A short list of some of these unions are Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Rockford United Labor, Carpenters Local Union 792, United Automobile Workers (UAW) Local 592, Iron Workers Mid America, and City Firefighters Local Four to name a few. There is a strong, local history in recognizing the struggles for worker’s rights that many fought and sometimes died for. Many take it for granted now but the fact is that it wasn’t until the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was enacted in 1938 that companies were required to pay a minimum wage per hour, similarly the FLSA made employing children illegal, and the limit of a 40 hour workweek wasn’t actually implemented until 1940 when the FLSA was amended. 

When the college ignores Labor Day it ignores the sacrifice and legacy of the Labor Movements and the workers that participated in them. What many see as just another day off or a three-day weekend means so much more to our Beloit community. On Labor Day, for example, Rockford held its annual parade where representatives from many unions marched to signify the importance of the holiday. And it’s easy to see why it is so important. In Illinois alone there at over 750,000 union workers according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, which accounts for around 15% of all the employed workers in the state. Wisconsin has roughly 200,000 unionized workers or about 8% of the total employed population.

When Beloit College envisioned itself as the “Yale of the West” in an academic sense it unwittingly borrowed other qualities from the east coast institution that are not so prestigious. Elitism for one, not many people view favorably. Beloit shows it does not want to look elitist though as 98% of students receive some form of gift aid from the school itself according to Beloit College’s website. The average amount of this aid per student is $27,000 or almost half of the total tuition. With the amount of effort the school puts into making itself accessible for as many qualified individuals as possible regardless of their economic background, it is surprising that they would give the proverbial middle finger to working class Americans by refusing to acknowledge Labor Day. It would be relatively simple to honor the holiday as well as keep the academic calendar balanced. One possibility is to take one day from fall break and reassign it to Labor Day. Though I would miss the full week away from classes myself, it is a small sacrifice to pay in order to honor a holiday that means so much to our local community. The administration should reconsider its opinion about the importance of the American Worker if it ever wants to truly be a part of the Beloit community.

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