The fact is, while most of us are happy to get the day off or go to a parade, most of us don’t know the history behind the holiday — only that it’s been pegged as the last day of the year that you can wear white pants.
Labor Day is a great opportunity to reflect on what you failed to accomplish this summer.
Now the question is back. So why do we celebrate a day of Labor by not doing well…..Labor?
The first Labor Day parade was held September 5th, 1882 in New York City to celebrate the strength of trade and labor organizations and to host a festival for workers’ families. But there are conflicting theories as to who created the holiday.
Some say that it was Peter J. McGuire of the American Federation of Labor, but others argue it was Matthew Maguire who proposed the holiday while serving as the secretary of the Central Labor Union of New York.
What is clear is that the celebration became an unofficial annual affair in New York City held on the first Monday of September. Other states and cities were following suit by 1885, after some urging from the Central Labor Union.
But the history of Labor Day isn’t all parades and parties. Strikes and riots also played a huge role, like Chicago’s Haymarket riot. The Haymarket riot left eight people died, and was a major setback for the organized labor movement in America.
Through the years the nation gave increasing emphasis to Labor Day. The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed during 1885 and 1886. From these, a movement developed to secure state legislation.
The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21, 1887. During the year four more states — Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — created the Labor Day holiday by legislative enactment.
By the end of the decade Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had followed suit.
Then, after the Pullman Strike in 1894, a nationwide railway strike, President Grover Cleveland extended an olive branch to unions, and designated Labor Day a federal holiday. But, rather than celebrate the holiday on International Workers’ Day on May 1, which has Communist ties and was just days before the anniversary of the Haymarket riot, President Cleveland went with a date designated by McGuire … or Maguire.
By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers, and on June 28 of that year, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.
The form for the celebration of Labor Day was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday: A street parade to exhibit to the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations”, followed by a festival for the workers and their families.
This became the pattern for Labor Day celebrations. Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the civil significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the Labor movement.
The holiday often marks the end of the traditional summer season (although summer doesn’t officially end until September 21), as students normally return to school the following week, although school year starting days now vary.
To take advantage of large numbers of potential customers free to shop, Labor Day has become an important sale weekend for many retailers in the United States. Some buyers retailers claim it is one of the largest sale dates of the year, second only to the Christmas season’s Black Friday.
Ironically, because of the importance of the sale weekend, some of those who are employed in the retail sector not only work on Labor Day, but work longer hours. More Americans work in the retail industry than any other, with retail employment making up 24% of all jobs in the United States.
As of 2012, only 3% of those employed in the retail sector were members of a labor union.
In high society, Labor Day is (or was) considered the last day of the year when it is fashionable to wear white or seersucker.
In U.S. sports, Labor Day marks the beginning of the NFL and college football seasons. NCAA teams usually play their first games the weekend of Labor Day, with the NFL traditionally playing their first game the Thursday following Labor Day. The Southern 500 NASCAR auto race was held that day from 1950 to 1983, and on the Sunday before from 1984 to 2003, but is set to return in 2015, in Darlington, South Carolina. At Indianapolis Raceway Park, the National Hot Rod Association hold their finals to the U.S. Nationals drag race. Labor Day is the middle point between weeks 1 and 2 of the U.S. Open Tennis Championships held in Flushing Meadows, New York.
In the United States, many school districts resume classes around the Labor Day holiday weekend (see First day of school). Most begin the week before, making Labor Day weekend the first three-day weekend of the school calendar, while others return the Tuesday following Labor Day, allowing families one final getaway before the school year begins. Many districts across the Midwest are opting to begin school after Labor Day.
Today, the holiday is synonymous with the start of the school year, and storewide sales and discounts. Ironically, because of those sales, employees at stores like Wal-Mart are forced to not only work on Labor Day, but work extended hours. Adding insult to injury, they’re not allowed to unionize.
The original intent of Labor Day was to provide a holiday that would honor the social and economic achievements of American workers. Essentially, it was intended to be, and in may ways remains, an annual national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. But how did it come about?
There are some disputes about who originally thought of the idea of an annual Labor Day observance. According to the Department of Labor, there is some controversy over whether Labor Day originated as the idea of Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, or of Matthew Maguire, a machinist, who later became the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J. Isn’t it ironic that both who are given credit for starting the Labor Day tradition have the same last name with a different spelling?
According to the Department of Labor, the first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, according to the plans of New York’s Central Labor Union. The second Labor Day followed a year later, on September 5, 1883. Labor Day wasn’t part of a three-day weekend until 1884, when the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed by the Central Labor Union, who then urged other labor organizations in other cities to celebrate the holiday on the first Monday of September.
The first state to enact a bill that would eventually become law to celebrate Labor Day was Oregon on February 21, 1887. Other states jumped on the bandwagon, just a few at first, but more than half of the states adopted the holiday to honor America’s workers by 1894. On June 28, 1984 the U.S. Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories. So the idea of a three-day Labor Day weekend was well in place across the U.S. over 100 years ago.
While many still turn out to hear Labor Day speeches and attend parades, the focus was of the American worker.
This Labor Day, let’s salute American corporations for keeping the Chinese gainfully employed.
The Labor Day of a modern area has turned more to celebrating a day off with friends and family. Is that because labor unions have weakened in the U.S.? Quite possibly, but however you decide to celebrate Labor Day, have fun and take some time away from work to catch up with your friends and family. Autumn fast approaches, and along with it the shorter days and increasing responsibilities.
Like other holidays, the three-day Labor Day weekend is a chance to reconnect. Take comfort this Labor Day in knowing the pressure to have fun this summer is finally over.
Whatever you decide to do, try to take some time out to help get your life back in balance. Three-day weekends don’t come along that often, and we should be thankful that our predecessors and ancestors were determined to make it happen.
Thanks to the catastrophic greenhouse effect, Labor Day no longer signifies the end of summer.