Labor Day is a summer holiday celebrated throughout the United States. It’s synonymous with backyard barbecues, pool parties, parades, and other summertime fun. Of course, it marks the end of the summer season and the start of exciting fall activities like football, sweaters, and yes, even going back to school.
Labor Day is more than a summer farewell; let’s be honest—most of us can’t recall how or when the holiday was created or what it’s all about, exactly. Even if simply because of its name, you’re probably familiar with it. But as it turns out, there’s a lot more to Labor Day than the obvious.
From the sweatshops that gave rise to the labor movement to the massive strike that resulted in Congress establishing Labor Day as a national holiday, the occurrences surrounding Labor Day had a significant role in one of America’s most turbulent eras. It commemorates American workers and their contributions to society.
The origins of Labor Day are rooted in the fight to improve working conditions in factories during the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution, which ushered in the age of manufacturing and mass production, resulted in 12- to 16-hour days seven days a week, in many cases with unsafe and unsanitary conditions. Demonstrations against these circumstances were held across the country, and some people wanted a day to commemorate the events.
Laborers formed unions from coast to coast in an effort to improve their working conditions during the late 1800s. On September 5, 1882, As the story goes, Bartholomew J. McGovern led around 10,000 marchers from City Hall to Union Square. They gave up a day’s pay to walk together, making it the first labor-related parade in American history. The route was about three miles long and took well over five hours to complete.
President Cleveland didn’t originate the idea of instituting a national holiday for workers; rather, it was one of two people who did. Peter McGuire, who co-founded the American Federation of Labor, is commonly credited with suggesting a day off for American workers in 1882. However, Matthew Maguire, who served as Central Labor Union secretary, may have also suggested it earlier that year.
It wasn’t until the Pullman Palace Car Company employees went on strike on May 18, 1894, and the ensuing violent events surrounding it that President Grover Cleveland proposed making Labor Day a national holiday. In June 1894, he signed an act establishing that the first Monday in September as Labor Day to repair damaged relationships with workers.
Labor Day is the last summer holiday in the United States and Canada, whereas comparable holidays worldwide are observed on May 1. International Workers’ Day and Labour Day are observed in over 90 countries.
While the holiday’s establishment didn’t consider the effort that our farmers contributed to the country’s well-being, the modern holiday has shifted focus toward their recognition. There are now celebrations across the country in honor of Labor Day and all those who work hard to make our lives better.
With the extra day off, Labor Day has become a major shopping holiday weekend. Second only to the traditional holiday shopping days of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It is also considered the ‘Back To School’ weekend because parents are preparing for children to return to school after summer vacation.
As you are enjoying your holiday weekend, remember to take a moment to appreciate the effort and sacrifices that our farmers and farm workers make to provide our families with the food we eat.
Thank you to all of those who work hard to bring us this wonderful, bountiful harvest we enjoy today, and thank you to all of those who have fought for a better life for workers across this great land. Because of their struggles and commitment, we can now take a day off.
Happy Labor Day, and be sure to support local farms & small businesses whether you decide to go to the fair or shop at the market.