Labor Day in the United States began in 1894 as a Federal Holiday to recognize the accomplishments and issues of organized Labor. Labor has brought about such things as the minimum wage, social security, the forty hour work week, child labor laws, worker’s safety issues, measures to fight discrimination, pensions, health care, and worker’s compensation.
Although the number of Americans who consider themselves members of Labor unions has decreased dramatically, the day remains to be celebrated on a Monday in September every year. Its purpose has broadened to recognized the importance of the contributions all those who have toiled assiduously in the pastures, the garages, and assembly lines of America, each contributing a small but vital part to the continued greatness and advancement of America as we know it. We should all marvel at our small part in the broader body of the American workforce and thus the American fabric. It is through the toils and labors of the many average rank and file American workers and their struggles and efforts that America has advanced and brought millions just a little closer to a more fertile in justice, riches, fairness, and dignity. For work is just not a means of attaining monetary rewards, but a practice that can infuse honor and pride into individuals as well as allow them to become part of broader society.
Today there still are hindrances facing American workers. Forty seven million lack health care coverage, wages have remained stagnant as productivity increases, and the unemployment rate is approaching 5.7%. Just as there once was many challenges to surmount in times earlier, challenges still face us today as workers and Americans.
Past generations have struggled so that we may all prosper. Let’s make sure that the fights and accomplishments of the past aren’t taken for granted and relegated to the shadows of obscurity, but are celebrated and lauded as they rightly should be. Lets not let the challenges of today go unrecognized or unchampioned, for these causes and accomplishments need advocates and recognition too.
Here is the history of Labor day as documented by the American Library of Congress:
On September 5, 1882, some 10,000 workers assembled in New York City to participate in America’s first Labor Day parade. After marching from City Hall to Union Square, the workers and their families gathered in Reservoir Park for a picnic, concert, and speeches. This first Labor Day celebration was initiated by Peter J. McGuire, a carpenter and labor union leader who a year earlier cofounded the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, a precursor of the American Federation of Labor.
McGuire had proposed his idea for a holiday honoring American workers at a labor meeting in early 1882. New York’s Central Labor Union quickly approved his proposal and began planning events for the second Tuesday in September. McGuire had suggested a September date in order to provide a break during the long stretch between Independence Day and Thanksgiving. While the first Labor Day was held on a Tuesday, the holiday was soon moved to the first Monday in September, the date we continue to honor.
New York’s Labor Day celebrations inspired similar events across the country. Oregon became the first state to grant legal status to the holiday in 1887; other states soon followed. In 1894, Congress passed legislation making Labor Day a national holiday.
For many decades, Labor Day was used by workers not only to celebrate their accomplishments, but also to air their grievances and discuss strategies for securing better working conditions and salaries. Nowadays, Labor Day is associated less with union activities and protest marches and more with leisure. For many, the holiday is a time for family picnics, sporting events, and summer’s last hurrah.