Happy Labor Day

September 03, 2012 | By JENNIFER THOMPSON

Since 1894 Americans have celebrated the first Monday in September as a national holiday.  Although its precise history is debated, all agree that the holiday was intended to honor workers and their contributions to society.  Its addition to the calendar signifies the growth of labor unions and is a lasting tribute to the late 19th century progressives.

While PLF often opposes labor union practices and takes issue with the Progressive Era’s legal legacy, we are certainly pro-worker.  In fact, we have an entire practice group—the Economic Liberty Project—devoted to defending the rights of Americans to work and to earn an honest living. As a part of this project, we represent entrepreneurs who are stymied by oppressive regulations that favor established businesses over new ones. We also routinely defend individuals who get in trouble simply for trying to earn money for themselves and their families.

It is this deep-seated respect for the rights of individuals to profit from their work that drives our litigation.  As John Locke explained towards the end of the 17th Century in his Second Treatise of Government, the right to the fruits of one’s labor forms the intellectual basis of property rights themselves. The two are inextricably intertwined:

Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labor of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labor with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature hath placed it in, it hath by this labor something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other men: for this labor being the unquestionable property of the laborer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others.

In other words, the right of people to turn their labor into property is a natural right that predates government.  Unfortunately, this right is all-too-often ignored in the law today.  In many fields, the right to work is treated as a mere license that cannot be pursued absent a bureaucrat’s stamp of approval.  At PLF we constantly fight against that mentality because we believe that all people have the right to enjoy the fruits of their labor without undue government interference.  And so on this Labor Day, we affirm our commitment to upholding and defending the worker’s right to earn an honest living.