It’s here: Labor Day Weekend! While we’ve come to think of this holiday as marking the end of summer, back-to-school sales, and perhaps one last lawn party or barbecue, that’s not exactly what Labor Day was created to celebrate. Today we figured we’d share a little history and reflection about this holiday and its meaning.
Labor Day became a national holiday in 1894, intended as a day to celebrate the American labor movement and the contributions of workers to the well-being of the country (in the same vein, Canada also celebrates Labor Day on the same day, and International Workers’ Day on May 1 is celebrated in 80 countries across the globe).
The push to celebrate Labor Day as a federal holiday came from trade unions. In 1882, the Knights of Labor and Central Labor Union organized the first ever Labor Day parade in New York City:
The history of organized labor is a fascinating one, especially in the U.S. where it evolved so differently than in much of the world. The United States is one of the few industrial nations that doesn’t have a Labor Party, for instance, where instead labor unions have worked with the two dominant political parties over the past centuries to advance their efforts. Ideologically, unions have historically been quite varied, from the Marxist Central Labor Union, which was the first integrated union in the country, to the American Federation of Labor, which excluded women and African Americans and fought against the employment of foreign workers in the U.S.
While unions can be a controversial topic, many elements of what we think of as fundamental to work in America — like the 8-hour work day and the fact that we don’t employ children — are due to organized labor. Like in much of the world, the labor movement has been a critical counterbalancing force to private and corporate interests, which have prioritized profits and pushed for the commoditization of labor.
This Labor Day, we are both looking forward to a day of leisure that symbolizes both how central workers have been to the prosperity of this country but also that work should be just one facet of our lives and that our identities and value to society are more than just the economic contributions we make. (And FYI, we won’t have a Monday post, but we’ll be back Wednesday.)
Here’s to a day of rest and reflection!