Celebrating Labor Day

On September 3rd of 2018, millions of Americans came together to celebrate Labor Day.


Labor Day is a public holiday in the United States that pays homage to the American labor movement, and commemorates workers of all backgrounds as well as the contributions that they have made to society. The holiday recognizes the people of the labor force, regardless if they are white-collar, blue-collar or in between, for being such an integral part of their community and for being part of the collective effort to bring forth greater strength, security and prosperity to their country.  


Actually, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 157,833,000 citizens, or 49% of the country’s total population, are actively part of the labor force. However, Labor Day is not only an important date to these workers, but also, to all peoples as a whole. It is important for people to not only appreciate this celebration, but also learn about its history and origins.


While there are many distinct theories about how Labor Day came to be and who masterminded it, it is agreed by most historians that this holiday arose in the late 19th century, a time period where labor movements and trade unions were receiving more and more influence. One event of great importance during this epoch was the Haymarket affair in May 4, 1886, in which multiple police officers and civilian workers were killed in Chicago, Illinois at what was initially a peaceful labor demonstration for an eight-hour day, and against violence and abuse towards workers. News of this conflict spread like wildfire, and brought greater awareness to workers’ rights, facilitating further development of labor workers’ rights and sparking action in federal institutions to improve their conditions.


Many proposed that May 1 should be the official date for Labor Day, especially because it was also the date of the popular European folk holiday of May Day, a spring festival full of food and festivities. However, deciding on a day for Labor Day was controversial. Many worried that a May date for this holiday would be too politically-charged, particularly due to its proximity to the time of the Haymarket affair. Many were opposed to this.


For instance, former U.S. president Grover Cleveland thought that formally putting Labor Day on May 1 would serve as a means to further ignite socialist and anarchist movements, especially seeing as these supported the May date for Labor Day. He supported a September day, publically voicing this in 1887. Others agreed, such as Central Labor Union of New York Secretary Matthew Maguire and American Federation of Labor Peter J. McGuire, that September would be a better date. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the latter was quoted as saying that there was a need for a “general holiday for the laboring classes,” and that he recommended the first Monday of September as the date for Labor Day because of its good weather and the fact that the date sat between two other major public holidays: Fourth of July and Thanksgiving.


The date McGuire suggested was taken, and the first Monday of every September was officially declared as Labor Day in 1894. By this time, thirty U.S. states, the first of them Oregon, had already begun to celebrate it informally. However, in 2018, Labor Day has become one of the United States’ most important federal public holidays, and is celebrated by every state including the District of Columbia. However, other nations have also established their own dates for Labor Day. For instance, Nicaragua celebrates its Labor Day on May 1, which has also become International Workers’ Day, and is also celebrated by many countries around the world.


Since Labor Day is on a Monday, this means workers have the day off, and thus have a long weekend. It is believed by people to be the ‘unofficial end of summer’ and the ‘unofficial beginning of ‘fall.’ Many sport events, like the U.S. Open Tennis Championships, NHRA U.S. Nationals drag race, and the beginnings of the NCAA and NFL regular seasons, happen around this time. Schools in the United States also start around this time.


Common events and festivities for Labor Days are trips to the beach and the outdoors, family vacations and barbecues. Public parades and commemorations are also quite common. In New York, for example, Labor Day’s impact can be seen virtually everywhere; there is a Labor Day Carnival, along with fireworks over Coney Island, happy hour in restaurants, 12-hour dance parties and more. In Washington D.C., one notably popular event is free attendance to a performance by the National Symphony Orchestra available to all. Labor Day, along with other holidays like Christmas and Black Friday, has also become one of the most important sale dates in the country, with retailers and shops giving large discounts and allowances to customers throughout Labor Day weekend.


In all, though, it is important to note that Labor Day is great not because it has good sales or because one has an excuse to enjoy barbecued meats and hot dogs (although, these are all very nice things), but because it brings to light the great labor of workers in America and those around the world, and honors all that they have done to improve society as a whole.


Happy belated Labor Day to all of the labor force!

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