What does Labor Day mean?
For many people, Labor Day weekend signifies the unofficial end of summer. And for most, it is enough to have a day off at work spending time with family and friends at the lake or in a back yard. But why is the first Monday in September called Labor Day? And just what exactly are we celebrating?
Labor Day was born out of the labor movement to showcase the social and economic achievements of American workers. It signifies a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country.
In the early years of this country workers worked twelve hours a day, seven days a week to make a living. Ruthless owners had children as young as six and seven, toil in their mills and factories. The very poor and recent immigrants often faced extremely unsafe working conditions.
As manufacturing increased, labor unions grew more prominent and vocal. They began organizing rallies and strikes to protest poor conditions and force employers to bargain hours of work and wages.
The official holiday began during one of American labor history’s most dismal chapters. It was initially established as a “workingmen’s holiday”. On September 5, 1882 10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City holding the first Labor Day Parade in U.S. history. The street parade was to demonstrate to the public the drive and strength of labor organizations of the community. It was followed by a festival for the leisure and enjoyment of workers and their families.
Twelve years later employees at Pullman Car Company went on strike to protest wage cuts and the firing of union representatives. The American Railroad Union led by Eugene V. Debs called for a boycott of all Pullman cars crippling railroad traffic nationwide. The federal government dispatched troops to Chicago unleashing a wave of riots that resulted in the deaths of more than a dozen workers. To repair ties with the American worker, Congress passed an act making Labor Day a legal holiday.
Over the years the U. S. labor force established the greatest production the world has ever know, adding greatly to the highest standard of living and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of social, economic and political democracy.
It is appropriate therefore, that everyone in the United States gather together and pay tribute on Labor Day this country’s greatest asset – the American worker.
Sr. Business Representative
IUOE Local 148