In the late 19th century a New York City carpenter named Peter McGuire reportedly rallied 100,000 workers to go on strike by marching to the streets. The story reminded me of those current day accounts about leadership existing not just at the top of an organization. McGuire was simply a leader through his beliefs and actions. He believed child labor, 10 to 12 hour work days and low pay was wrong. His actions were steadfast for 10 years until he received approval for the first ever Labor Day parade in New York in 1882. In 1894 Congress approved Labor Day as a national holiday each first Monday in September after many municipalities and states adopted a day to honor the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country.
We’ve come a long way in this country since the late 1800s. We owe a lot to those who protested workplace injustices. Those actions also, maybe, point to the well-documented fact that people … workers … rate job satisfaction higher than money. In fact, those pre-Labor Day protests were focused on more humanitarian injustices like excess hours, underage children and poor workplace environments. Talk about work-life imbalance! I think the protests were about certain innate timeless human desires being discounted or ignored by organizations that looked only at their bottom lines. Hmmm … some dysfunctions persist!
To say we’re a lot smarter today about work and workers really owns up to our own awareness that “workers” are people who crave being important. In the workplace today, in our knowledge economy, leaders make work fulfilling when they validate contribution, belonging and personal growth.
Validated contribution gives meaning through ownership.
Validated belonging gives meaning through shared mission or purpose.
Validated personal growth gives meaning to the attainment of mastery.
I believe all workers, throughout history, have desired the same things: ownership, purpose and mastery. As leaders we’re really smarter today about the humanity of work – documented, in this century, by Peters and Waterman, Jim Collins, and Daniel Pink. Have you read Simon Sinek’s book or seen his TED talk? It’s about the importance of “why” at work.
Hat’s off to our leaders … Peter McGuire and those who have followed who have been dedicated to work that matters. The key for leaders of labor today is that all work matters.