The management team of Face Activities wishes our members and their friends and families a happy, safe and enjoyable Labor Day. As you enjoy this wonderful holiday, please contemplate its origins, and significance in our world, both past and present.
Labor Day has become a staple for the American Public. It’s a holiday devised to honor the American worker, and sprang forth from the labor movement of the 19th century. The holiday started small, in a few cities, in 1885 and 1886, and eventually grew to become one of the major secular American holidays, both an homage to the worker, and emblematic of a key yearly passage—-the practical end of the summer season.
For many today, Labor Day is simply a reason to enjoy a long weekend, and a cookout with family and friends, (this labor day, there’s added drama, since a tropical storm threatens the eastern seaboard.) But the holiday’s historical and social significance is much greater. Whether or not you support organized labor unions and their policies, it’s hard to argue that the American worker hasn’t played a vital role in industry, commerce, and innovation, making the U.S. a long-standing economic leader throughout the world.
The first state bill recognizing labor day was proposed by New York, but the first to become law was passed in Oregon in 1887, followed within the year by Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. By 1894, 23 additional states had accepted the holiday, and Congress soon passed legislation to make it a national holiday. From that moment onward, Labor Day would fall, every year, on the first Monday in September.
While Labor Day’s fortunes rose, history wasn’t so kind to that other great worker’s holiday, celebrated on the first of May, which has failed to gain acceptance throughout the United States. An ancient traditional spring-time festival, May Day has also come to represent the worker, especially in the form of “International Workers Day.” It was started by socialists and communists to remember Chicago’s “Haymarket affair,” a terrible tragedy.
On May 4, 1886, at a Chicago worker’s demonstration in support of the eight hour work day, seven people were killed following a bombing and subsequent gunfire by police–several anarchists were convicted. So the holiday marks an important historical event in the labor movement, but probably because of its communist-inspired roots, the May Day / International Worker’s Day holiday never gained much ground in the U.S. mainstream. However, it was widely celebrated in the Soviet Union.
To be sure, the labor movement, which spawned labor day, was a major player in American history. As large corporations and industrial titans, like steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, re-worked the nations landscape, economy, and role in the global marketplace, they were often indifferent to the plight of their workers, when it suited them. The labor movement, over time, and after much struggle, ensured that working conditions and benefits kept pace with the increasingly important role of the American worker in these vital industries. Modern workers in the United States enjoy many benefits from this process that aren’t available in many other countries, including the eight hour work day, minimum wage, OSHA health and safety regulations, and child labor laws.
That’s not to say that many other countries haven’t implemented positive reforms. Many today feel that the European Union is surpassing the U.S. with regard to workers rights. And as an interesting historical note, the Shah of Iran implemented a policy requiring corporations to share 20% of their profits with their workers. It will be interesting to see if such a policy ever gains popularity in the United States.
So enjoy your barbecue, movie, and day off, absolutely! And please remember how Labor day, that fun holiday so many enjoy today, is steeped in a 19th century tradition of struggle, progress, and advocacy for the American Worker, and honors the achievements, tenacity and characters of the ordinary, hard-working people you meet, every where you go.
Learn more about Labor day (U.S. Government)
Photo: By Sgt. Jessica Barnett [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons