I’ve been working my fingers to the bone the last few weeks, but no so you can spend all of my hard-earned money on DVDs.
Since Labor Day is tomorrow, I picked an idiom that has
something to do with work. This famous phrase may sound a bit negative, but it
is an exaggeration (at least for the most part).
What Does Someone Mean When They Say, ‘I Have Been Working My Fingers to
When someone works their fingers to the bone, they have been
working extremely hard, especially for an extended period (“WORK YOUR”). Similar
phrases include “work my tail off” (“Work my”) and “work your socks off” (“work
In the West, the labor movement has existed in one form or another since industrialization.
This is a little late, but I had quite a bit of work to do this past week. However, in honor of Labor Day, I wanted to make an aptly themed Famous Sayings post.
Now, the labor movement in the West has many caveats; it’s too great of a topic for me to fully tackle right now (given how long my posts generally are), but I would like to provide a relatively quick overview of this topic and look at the origin of the phrase. (Of course, I would like to take a deeper look at this one day, so stay tuned.)
What Does the Term ‘Labor Movement’ Mean?
If you’ve heard or read about strikes in the news or another medium, you’ve likely heard about a labor movement. In short, the labor movement arose in order to improve conditions for workers in the following ways:
Obtaining better wages
Securing reasonable hours
Establishing safer working conditions
Stopping child labor
Getting workers health benefits
Proving aid to injured and retired workers
These have always been the goals of labor advocates, who include workers, unions, and activists. Most of the time, the labor movement has been channeled through the medium of unions and it long been intertwined with national and local politics (History.com Staff). While a sustained labor movement can put pressure on business owners to improve conditions for workers, most of the changes for workers (positive and negative) have occurred at the local, state, and national levels.
When Was the Term ‘Labor Movement’ Firs Recorded?
The only source I found that put a date to the term “labor movement” was Merriam-Webster. The entry for the term states its origin was 1844, in reference to workers banding together to improve their occupational, economic, and social standing through the creation of labor unions. Merriam-Webster’s dates have been iffy before, but this date might be correct, given what I found about the origins of the word “labor.”
At the Online Etymology Dictionary, the entry for “labor” pinpoints the origin of the word around the beginning of the 14th century. However, labor in the sense of workers as part of a class was first used around 1839. That would five years before labor movement was first used if Merriam-Webster is correct.
When Did the Labor Movement Begin?
As I said in the quote at the top of this post, there has always been a form of a labor movement in some form since the Industrial Revolution began in 1760. In the United States, the first-recorded strike took place in 1768, as journeymen tailors in New York protested a wage reduction. The first “sustained trade union organization among American workers” took place in 1794, when the Federal Society of Journeymen Cordwainers (for shoemakers) was formed in Philadelphia (History.com Staff).
The labor movement gained steam in the 1880s, as the first Labor Day was held and states began to officially recognize the holiday. In 1894, Congress made Labor Day a national holiday to be celebrated the first Monday in September (“History”). (I discussed this 2 years ago.)
While unions began to wane by the time Howard Taft became president, they gained new life during the Great Depression, as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt introduced his New Deal reforms. Unions used their new clout for the following three decades, reaching their height in the 1970s. By 1979, 21 million American workers belonged to unions, but it was largely downhill from there (Meyer). Union lost a considerable amount of clout, especially after Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency and led the most anti-union presidency ever seen.
Why Do We Need a Labor Movement?
Current events provide that answer. When you look at the news today, there are a few things that stand out, including:
Amazon’s mistreatment of its own workers.
Apple’s exploitation of its workers.
The exploitation of undocumented workers.
Trump’s decision to block raises for federal workers.
In all those situations, workers are being underpaid and forced to work harder for their low wages. Amazon’s misdeeds are especially egregious. This has happened in large part because of the reduced clout of unions and the efforts of oligarchs to increase their own profits by any means. We need more people who will advocate for the rights and well-being of workers because these models are unsustainable and unnecessarily cruel.
In the case of the teacher’s strikes, the teachers are finding moderate success. In states that have been highlighted, like West Virginia and Oklahoma, the teachers were able to obtain higher wages, and more needs to be done. However, we are learning about the effect the teachers are having on this year’s midterms, which I want to discuss in the future.
This year, I wanted to share a few links for Labor Day. Recently, I have come across some links with a work theme. I came across one while working on my latest Famous Sayings post (#77 — Working Hard or Hardly Working). Another article led to yet another and a blog post.
For Labor Day Weekend, I wanted to do another themed post. Originally, I wanted to look at this phrase last year, but I decided to go with something else for two reasons: First, there wasn’t a lot of information out there. Second, I thought this phrase seemed a bit disrespectful for the occasion.
Since then, I found some articles related to this theme, some with bits of inspiration. However, it was hard to pin down the origin of this phrase.
Yesterday, as I was working on one of my featured posts, I looked into the history of Labor Day. What I found was interesting. And the most compelling part of my research concerns who founded the holiday.
Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.
This feature is going to be different. Instead of looking deep into the origin, I want to focus more on the meaning and application of this saying. And since Labor Day is tomorrow in the U.S., I wanted to find a quote that was dedicated to hard work.