Welcome to Labor Day

It’s my sincere hope, if you’re an American, is that you’re reading this post on Tuesday and that you’re not stuck in front of a monitor on a perfectly beautiful Monday. Labor Day is literally a day for celebrating the contributions of the labor force to the wonderful standard of living we now enjoy. Originally it was meant to highlight the hard work produced by people in less than ideal conditions. I’ve explored some of this information in two previous posts: Labor Day, Time for Fun and Reflection and Labor Day, Eh?. (My Celebrating Labor Day post was simply to let you know I’d be offline.)

I did come up with a few interesting facts about Labor Day this year. For example, I discovered that it’s traditional for men to wear a straw hat from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and then a felt hat the rest of the year. In fact, there is a cowboy etiquette site that will steer you straight on all the rules. Of course, most men don’t wear hats any longer and my hat would break any tradition because it’s made from cloth. As with the rule that women can’t wear white after Labor Day, the hat rule has faded into obscurity (even more so because I could find few references to it).

A number of other nationalities celebrate Labor Day, which I found interesting. For example, if you speak Spanish, Labor Day is called “Día del Trabajo”. However, in Mexico, people actually celebrate May Day (Primero de Mayo) as Labor Day. Over the years I’ve become more interested in how people in other countries celebrate holidays that are close to or the same as our own. The fact is that Americans used to celebrate Labor Day in May as well. After the 4 May 1886 Haymarket Riot, American’s celebrated May Day as we celebrate Labor Day now. The 10 May 1894 Pullman Strike convinced President Grover Cleveland and Congress that a different holiday was needed, which is how we ended up with Labor Day. Interestingly enough, Canada celebrates Labor Day on the same day that we do.

Today is a day celebrated with family time, picnics, the last outing somewhere, or possibly just a barbecue. No matter how you celebrate, make sure you take time to consider the reason for the celebration. Somewhere, perhaps not even in this country, someone is working in a factory in less than ideal conditions to provide the goods that you use on a daily basis. Yes, they’re getting paid (hopefully), but factory work is usually hard and not appreciated by those who have other tasks to perform in life. Today is the day to give these people their due. Let me know your thoughts about Labor Day at [email protected].


Celebrating Labor Day

This has been an exceptionally hard spring and summer for us, so a time for relaxation is always welcome. Today I’m offline (I’m actually writing this on Saturday) and will likely barbecue something for my beautiful wife. We’ll play games and watch a movie (or possibly go for a walk should we feel so inclined). Today’s society is so high strung that it seems to be a requirement that people remain active all of the time, even when there really isn’t anything important to do. Yes, I could easily find something useful to do, but today I’ll relax.

I’ve written about Labor Day twice before: Labor Day, Time for Fun and Reflection and Labor Day, Eh?. Both posts expound on some important historical elements behind Labor Day. Unfortunately, this year I wasn’t able to find anything new to add to those two posts. I’m sure there must be something more to say, but sometimes it’s hard to separate fact from fiction and I didn’t want to reduce the importance of those previous posts. Actually, I’d enjoy hearing anything new you have to add on the subject that I haven’t discussed already. Just contact me, as normal, at [email protected] or leave a comment on my blog.

No matter what else you do today, I hope you take a little time to unwind and to think about why we’re celebrating this particular day. The history behind Labor Day is important, especially in light of what is happening in labor today with the economy. The struggle for obtaining just wages and good working conditions never ends because someone is always looking for ways to get more for less.


Labor Day, Time for Fun and Reflection

A lot of Americans don’t realize it, but Labor day does have a significance other than getting a day off to celebrate the end of summer. I talked about some of the history behind Labor Day last year in my Labor Day, Eh? post. The day has been celebrated since September 5th, 1882, when the first parade took place in Union Square. At the time I wrote the post, I didn’t realize that the organizers had chosen the date because it’s halfway between Independence Day and Thanksgiving. I’m sure there is quite a lot I don’t know about Labor Day, but I do know that it’s a celebration of the contribution organized labor has made to our society.

Interestingly enough, Europe celebrates the contribution of organized labor on May Day. May 1st was chosen as a day to recognize labor because it was the start of the new contract each year. I’m sure that with anarchists, Marxists, and other groups claiming May Day as their own, organized labor in this country wanted some other day to recognize the contributions of the worker. Even so, May 1st is still celebrated in Europe and other locations as the International Worker’s Day. Labor Day serves the same purpose in this country. Honoring those who leave their home country to come and benefit a different country’s economy is important. These people often leave everything behind, in the hopes of starting a new life. However, they often come to the country with no financial assistance. Many of them are without credit histories, meaning that they will struggle to take out loans for housing. However, by reading this website here, workers can receive some financial advice to set them up for this new opportunity.

This year, I took another look at Labor Day through the eyes of Samuel Gompers, a 19th century labor organizer (he was the first president of the American Federation of Labor, the AFL). He published an article on September 4th, 1910 in the New York Times about the significance of Labor day that makes something about this particular holiday clear, “It differs essentially from some of the ex holidays of the year in that it glorifies no armed conflicts or battles of man’s prowess over man.” This particular holiday isn’t the result of any religion or other inclination of some subset of mankind-it truly is a holiday for everyone. In reading about Samuel Gompers and seeing his vision through the articles he wrote, I see a different version of labor than it exists today.

During the 19th century, people worked long hours for incredibly low pay. Many people made so little they couldn’t afford to buy decent food, lived in hovels, and barely had clothes on their backs. Samuel Gompers, and many like him, worked hard to obtain worker rights to decent pay and shorter working hours. He truly was a visionary and I’m glad that he was instrumental in making work conditions so much better for the rest of us. I just wish that some of his other goals and ideals had come true.

Monday is truly a time of reflection. It’s a time when you should consider the plight of the working person in today’s world. However, it’s also a time of fun. You may very well decide to march in a parade, celebrate with a picnic, or simply fire up the barbecue as I plan to do. The important point is to remember why the holiday exists and to tell others about it. When a holiday becomes meaningless, the reasons for celebrating it become lost in the shuffle and we all lose something. Labor Day is too important a holiday for that.

With this in mind, I’ll be taking a holiday on Monday. Rest assured that you’ll see my usual blog post on Tuesday. In the meantime, read up on Labor Day and take a little time to think about the contributions that organized labor has made.


Labor Day, Eh?

Few Americans realize it, but Labor Day began as a Canadian celebration. That’s right, it was first celebrated in Canada in 1872 with parades in support of the Toronto Typographical Union’s strike for a 58-hour work week. At the time of the parade, it wasn’t unusual for workers to work a 66 to 72 hour work week. Unfortunately, as I write this, many workers are still engaged in a 66 to 72 hour work weeksome work even longer.

The first celebration in this country didn’t occur until September 5th, 1882 when New York’s Central Labor Union marched into Union Square as a sign of solidarity and to focus on all the benefits organized labor provides to society. At least a few people credit the original Labor Day as another Irish holiday in this country. I probably wouldn’t go that far. However, the union leader was Irish. There is some confusion as to whether it was Peter McGuire or Matthew Maguire who led the union at the time. Labor Day began as a
festival for the unionized labor in this country and is supposed to
include parades and speeches centered on the importance of the union in
assuring worker’s rights.

The first federal recognition of Labor Day came in 1894 when President Grover Cleveland pushed it through congress after the devastating Pullman strike in May 1894, where many workers lost their lives after being shot by police, U.S. Marshals, and the military. The purpose of Labor Day is political—reconciliation with the labor unions. The president and congress hoped the holiday would help quell any further disputes. It’s a fact that many of the rights that workers enjoy today are written in the blood of laborers of the past who weren’t afraid to say no, even if it meant losing their lives to do it.

Today, the original purpose of Labor Day is all but forgotten. It has become a time for picnics, kids going back to school, the end of summer, and a time when women stop wearing white. (According to most sources I found, the rule against wearing white started in the early 20th century and has now mostly gone out of date.) I’m sure there will be a few parades and possibly a few mentions of organized labor, but many people will simply view it as a nice time to take a day off to review the summer before engaging in the work of the fall months.

It’s important, especially in these economic times, to consider the role of organized labor in establishing the lifestyle we enjoy today. Many Americans don’t truly appreciate how well we live, but we do live quite well compared to many other places on the planet. Labor, organized or not, has helped make that quality of life a reality. Where would we be without carpenters, plumbers, electricians, factory workers, and the like? So, while I’m taking Monday off to celebrate the holiday by smoking some meat (an all day event), I’ll give some thought to people like my father who worked in grueling conditions so that I might enjoy a high quality of life. Let me know your thoughts about Labor Day at [email protected].