Most Americans don’t labor on Labor Day. Ever wonder why? If your smarter than I am (which wouldn’t take much) then you probably already know. I just find it interesting that we don’t labor on Labor Day. Why isn’t it called Labor-Free Day, or Labor-Less Day? According to Wikipedia (which we call know is the most trusted site…), Labor Day “honors the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of the country. It is the Monday of the long weekend known as Labor Day Weekend and it is considered the unofficial end of summer.”
So Labor Day is a day in which Americans do not labor, in order to celebrate labor. I know, sounds weird, but it’s really not. I, for one, am glad to have this long weekend of R & R.
“Beginning in the late 19th century, as the trade union and labor movements grew, trade unionists proposed that a day be set aside to celebrate labor. “Labor Day” was promoted by the Central Labor Union and the Knights of Labor, which organized the first parade in New York City. In 1887, Oregon was the first state of the United States to make it an official public holiday. By the time it became an official federal holiday in 1894, thirty U.S. states officially celebrated Labor Day.“
It goes on to say that Canada’s Labour Day is also celebrated on the first Monday of September, and not only that, but International Workers’ Day is a holiday that 80+ countries celebrate on May 1. IWD is, apparently, the ancient European holiday of May Day. And in case you’re wondering if this has anything to do with the “mayday” distress call, it doesn’t, just look it up.
In addition, the History Channel tells us that there was a violent build up to the first Labor Day:
As manufacturing increasingly supplanted agriculture as 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, including the infamous Haymarket Riot of 1886, in which several Chicago policemen and workers were killed. Others gave rise to longstanding traditions: 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.
Yikes. And amidst the hustle and bustle, apparently Congress didn’t dig it yet:
The idea of a “workingmen’s holiday,” celebrated on the first Monday in September, 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. On May 11, 1894, employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago went on strike to protest wage cuts and the firing of union representatives.
However, after a national company decided to stop doing business with a national railroad, and after a lots of fighting, Congress gave in:
On June 26, the American Railroad Union, led by Eugene V. Debs, called for a boycott of all Pullman railway cars, crippling railroad traffic nationwide. To break the strike, the federal government dispatched troops to Chicago, unleashing a wave of riots that resulted in the deaths of more than a dozen workers. In the wake of this massive unrest and in an attempt to repair ties with American workers, Congress passed an act making Labor Day a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.
And yet, “More than a century later, the true founder of Labor Day has yet to be identified.”
Enjoy your Labor Day (er..Labor-free) weekend!