When we think if Labor Day, we usually think of the end of summer. Back to school season! Perhaps we will take in a parade, enjoy a barbecue or two, fireworks and other fun events. Or we can just kick back and relax with the extra day off.
It is important to remember how this holiday came to be part of our American culture. Labor Day is a celebration of workers and their achievements. We have come a long way from 12 hour work days, 7 days a week schedules, and children working in harsh conditions. Workers toiled for low wages in very unsafe working conditions. Workers were compelled to speak up and protest. These were dismal times and many died during violent protests, such as the Haymarket Riot in Chicago in 1886, where many police officers and workers were killed. On September 5, 1882 10,000 workers took unpaid time off in New York to march from City Hall to Union Square in the first Labor Day Parade in our history. This idea caught on in other cities around the country, so a ‘workingmen’s holiday” celebrated on the first Monday in September came to be.
Twelve years later, after a violent strike in Chicago that helped bring workers rights into the public view. the holiday got national status. The federal government had come in with troops to break up the strike, and the ensuing riots resulted in the deaths of several workers. As a way of reaching out to the American worker, Congress passed an act making Labor Day a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and federal territories.
No one has ever been clearly identified as the founder of Labor Day. It was an idea that many people helped in making it finally happen.
We now enjoy the protection of laws that our ancestors had to fight very hard and endure many bad circumstances before they finally came to be. So as we enjoy our long weekend, let us remember those who didn’t get time off and languished in low paying jobs with unsafe conditions. They stood up for us and future generations to have a better life.