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Labor Day stems from celebration of unions, workers

Feather Publishing
8/30/2013
 

  What is Labor Day? Why do we even celebrate it?

  To most of us in the workforce, Labor Day is just another chance to enjoy a three-day weekend.

  Since it became a national holiday more than a century ago, Labor Day has signified the end of the summer season — the last chance to take the kids to the lake, or load the car for a long weekend getaway.

  Although it signifies the end of summer, summer doesn’t officially end for another three weeks.

  Labor Day marks the beginning of football season and the start of the school year. In the old days, Labor Day was the last day it was fashionably acceptable to wear white or seersucker. … Times have certainly changed.

  According to national retail statistics, Labor Day has also become one of the biggest shopping days of the year. It is second only to Black Friday, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season that begins the day after Thanksgiving.

  While Labor Day signifies different things to many Americans, or in some cases nothing at all, it’s not even truly an American-made holiday. The day to honor workers originated in Canada in the 1870s in the wake of growing labor disputes that often became violent. The first Labor Day parade was held in Toronto in 1872. It was organized by local unions to protest the country’s 58-hour workweek.

  A 58-hour week might seem cruel and unusual by today’s standards. But, in fact, hundreds of small-business owners in Plumas County probably work that many hours or more. And many of the 7.6 percent of Americans who are currently unemployed (double that percentage for Plumas County) would probably trade their unemployment checks for 58 hours of honest work.

  In many European countries, Labor Day is celebrated May 1. But since that international holiday was partially inspired by a communist movement, our country wanted nothing to do with it. We recognize May 1 as May Day or International Workers Day instead.

  America’s first unofficial Labor Day was celebrated with a parade in New York City’s Union Square in 1882. It was inspired by American workers who witnessed the Canadian celebration. In 1887, Oregon became the first state to make it a holiday. Thirty states recognized Labor Day before President Grover Cleveland signed it into law as a federal holiday in 1894. Labor Day was officially celebrated nationwide on the first Monday of September.

  The template for the early Labor Day celebrations was pretty much the same nationwide — a parade organized by union workers, followed by a barbecue with kegs of beer.

  The online encyclopedia Wikipedia refers to Labor Day as “a holiday that celebrates the economic and social contributions of workers.” But unlike Memorial Day, a deeply symbolic holiday that traditionally marks the beginning of the summer season, Labor Day has lost much of its relevance. Unions no longer have the significant impact on America’s workforce or economy they once did.

  To most of us, Labor Day is what it is — a three-day weekend that provides an opportunity to get out and enjoy the waning days of summer.


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