Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Is Labor Day meaningless? ... Not anymore!

Many holidays throughout the year go unrecognized for what the day was meant to celebrate. Some people mistakenly believe it is just another day off of work, simply an excuse to fire up the grill, or even an extended weekend with the family. However the sad fact is that most of us have no clue as to what the holidays we are celebrating is really about.  This weekend we will be celebrating Labor Day, which is just such a holiday that has gone misunderstood for nearly two decades. Granted, every working stiff deserves a day off to relax and recreate, but where did the unofficial end of summer come from and why?


Labor Day, an annual celebration of workers and their achievements, originated during one of American labor history’s most dismal chapters. In the late 1800s, at the height of the Industrial Revolution in the United States, the average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks in order to create a basic living. Despite restrictions in some states, children as young as 5 or 6 toiled in mills, factories and mines across the country, earning a fraction of the adults wages. People of all ages, particularly the very poor and recent immigrants, often faced extremely unsafe working conditions, with insufficient access to fresh air, sanitary facilities, and breaks. Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed during 1885 and 1886. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

As manufacturing increased the wellspring of American employment, labor unions, which had first appeared in the late 18th century, grew more prominent and vocal. They began organizing strikes and rallies to protest poor conditions and compel employers to renegotiate hours and pay. Many of these events turned violent during this period.On September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City, holding the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, 1883.

In 1884, the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a "workingmen's holiday" on that date. The idea of a “workingmen’s holiday” caught on in other industrial centers across the country, and many states passed legislation recognizing it.Congress would not legalize the holiday until 12 years later, when a watershed moment in American labor history brought workers’ rights squarely into the public’s view.

Who proposed this venture to recognize the working man? More than 100 years after the first Labor Day observance, there is still doubt as to who first proposed the holiday. Many credit Peter J. McGuire, General Secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honor those "who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold." There are those who believe that Matthew McGuire, a machinist, NOT Peter McGuire, was the originally founder of the holiday. Regardless of who, what is clear is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic.

How should we recognize the men and woman this holiday represents? The form that the observance
of Labor Day should take was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday. There is to be a street parade to exhibit to the public "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations" of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families.

For many Americans, Labor Day symbolizes the end of summer. Why is that when fall begins weeks later. Labor Day is the last official major holiday before fall. No matter why or how you celebrate your Labor Day, please remember to be safe and enjoy the ride.