The History of Labor Day in the United States, Explained

You * probably * associate Labor Day with this holiday at the beginning of September when you have a Monday off.

Or may be you associate it with one of the many days each year that retailers promote big sales. And while you probably like to spend a day away from your desk and get a solid discount, it’s important to note that the Labor Day story goes far beyond justifying a long weekend. end.

In fact, Labor Day signifies a pivotal moment for workers in the history of the United States. “Labor Day has become an end of summer vacation ceremony, but it’s much more than that,” says Elizabeth Tandy Shermer, PhD, Professor of Politics, Labor and History at Loyola University in Chicago and author of Students Under Contract: How Government Guaranteed Loans Left Generations To Drown In University Debt.

The origins of Labor Day can be traced back to the late 1800s to the industrial age which, among other things, was characterized by pressure to protect workers from a dangerous and abusive work environment. The conditions were appalling – not only were people dying on the job from dangerous machinery and exhaustion, but there were also no laws in place to hold business owners accountable for employee safety. This means that, yes, it was perfectly legal to work hours and hours every day for low wages. (So ​​low that families still lived in poverty, no matter how much work was done.) (Sounds familiar to you …?)

Today, about 78 percent of American workers take Labor Day off from their jobs, according to the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industry Organizations (AFL-CIO).

Now that you’re a little more up to date, let’s take a look at the details of Labor Day, including why the country celebrates it, who is responsible for its creation, why it always falls on a Monday, and more, according to historians. . Plus, you’ll find out what you can do to make sure you honor the true spirit of the vacation establishment and founders.

Most importantly, make sure you take advantage of your day off, if and when it takes place. (You deserve it.)

What exactly is Labor Day?

At its most basic level, Labor Day is meant to be a day off for workers, says Tandy Shermer. (Which, if you’ve got a semblance of work nine to five, means you.) Specifically, if you want #getofficial, Labor Day “is an annual national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the force, the prosperity and well-being of our country “, according to the US Department of Labor.

Although he’s now transformed into a capitalist symbol for holiday sales and, to be honest, overtime for those who work in retail and other sales-oriented jobs, he was on the line. originally supposed to be a real day of rest. That said, the origins of Labor Day are rooted in bloodshed and revolt; the establishment of this holiday made not come easily.

Why do we celebrate Labor Day?

Labor Day is all about remembering and honoring the plight of working class people, notes Tandy Shermer. This is also intended for — wait—rest.

Industrial workers in the late 1800s, especially women and people of color, were often forced to work day and night with few legal limitations on working hours. Labor Day was a way for the country to recognize workers’ rights nationwide, as well as granting an extra day of rest. So if you want to celebrate Labor Day the way it was originally intended, use it to rest and recharge for the week (and probably a lifetime) of work ahead.

When was it established?

Labor Day was first declared a national holiday by President Grover Cleveland’s administration in 1894, says Tandy Shermer, but workers had advocated for it for years before the decision.

While states had declared Labor Day a public holiday for nearly 12 years, the Cleveland administration only did so to quell civil unrest, says Tandy Shermer. Workers were protesting dangerous, prolonged and unprotected working conditions that had been ignored by politicians for some time, says Tandy Shermer. In fact, Labor Day actually started out as a protest (we’ll talk about that a bit later).

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Who introduced labor day?

Before it was nationally recognized, the first state to make Labor Day a holiday was Oregon in 1887. Other states like New Jersey, Massachusetts, Colorado, and New York followed suit in the same year, according to the US Department of Labor.

But Labor Day actually started out as a parade, which Tandy Shermer notes, looked more like a protest. “The workers were pushing for this parade-demonstration, alongside their leaders, who were the Central Labor Council,” said Tandy Shermer. The Central Labor Council has encouraged and helped American workers to take measures such as running for office or lobbying legislatures to create better working conditions for citizens, as well as establishing a public holiday when workers could have that extra day of rest for themselves.

Specifically, the Central Labor Council wanted a “labor day” to recognize the plight of workers. Some efforts by the Central Labor Council even led to clashes with the authorities and, as is still the case today, demonstrators lost their lives at the hands of the police.

The eight-hour working day is even the result of the efforts of the Central Labor Council. Their song was “eight hours of work, eight hours of rest, eight hours for what we want,” notes Tandy Shermer.

Despite this, many of the protections workers fought for in the late 1800s have been largely lost by current labor laws. Today, a majority of American citizens work much longer than the original eight hours, says Tandy Shermer.

Why does Labor Day always fall on a Monday?

You might also be wondering why Labor Day always falls on the first Monday in September.

Here’s what you need to know: “At the time, the majority of the population was Christian,” says Tandy Shermer. The intention was therefore to have a day of rest after a Sunday, the day that Christians already observed as a day of rest. “That means you get a longer weekend when you take a day off right after your Sunday. You’re going to have your day off again,” says Tandy Shermer.

Now that you are more informed about the history of Labor Day, remember that one of the most important things you can do when it is happening is get some rest.

Don’t try to go ahead or sneak in an email or two. (This is a very important tip for women, who largely work what Tandy Shermer calls a ‘double shift’, both working all day and then coming home and keeping busy. family at night.) And, if you feel it, you may even attend a Labor Day parade, which is still hosted by many cities.

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