For most Americans, Labor Day signifies little more than the end of the summer season but the holiday seems much more then just a few days off work. The century old tradition of Labor Day is rich in its history and is the legacy of America’s labor movement that rose to prominence during the industrial revolution.
Despite the fact that Labor Day was first created by the trade unions, Labor Day was meant to be celebrated by all who labor. This day of rest is a tribute so the construction workers have made towards the well-being of society.
Samuel Gompers, founder of the American Federation of Labor described Labor Day as “the day for which the tailors in past centuries looked forward when their rights and their wages would be discussed….that the workers of our day may not only lay down their tools of labor for a holiday, but upon which they may touch shoulders in marching platoons and to most definitely feel stronger for it.”
In the mid-19th century, the working class realized that if they wanted their harsh job conditions to improve then they would have to work together. By the 1870’s, labor unions began to form, offering the workman bargaining power with their employees for the first time. Sanctions and demonstrations were a regular occurrence and as the labor force let their power be known, slowly but shortly, life for the average American began to get better.
In 1882, The General Labor Union held its first Labor Day celebration in New York City which included a parade of 10,000 workers. The marchers carried banners displaying union slogans and demands for better working conditions. The idea of a workingman’s celebration spread quickly within industrialized cities and in only 5 short years the day was legitimized in the year 1887. Oregon was the first state to pass Labor Day as an official holiday.
For much of its history, Labor Day has been a day not just to celebrate the accomplishments of the labor force, but also to air grievance and demonstrate for better working conditions and salaries.
Today, union demonstrators and parades have largely been replaced by picnics, barbecues, and civic events. Today, less than 15% of American workers belong to unions, though nearly all of us whom have benefited from their past victories. This year as you enjoy your day off, remember those laborers of the past who fought so vigorously to make this day possible to appreciate their amazing efforts.