Labor Day is a U.S. national holiday held the first Monday every September, meaning this year it falls on September 4th.
Aside from shopping or barbecuing, Labor Day is without rituals. For the most part, the day merely marks the last weekend of summer and the start of school. However, the day was originally intended for something altogether different. The holiday’s purpose and meaning extends beyond an end-of-summer celebration; it was created as a means to unify union workers and reduce work time.
History of Labor Day
Back in 1882, the first Labor Day took place in New York City under the direction of the city’s Central Labor Union. At this time, unions were weak in that they were largely divided and consisted of only a small fraction of the workforce. As such, the Central labor Union and other organizations sought to unite the small unions so that they could achieve more power and influence. By bringing the unions together, the first Labor Day organizers believed that workers – no matter their industry or job type – could come together and recognize their common interests – the common interest being too much time on the job.
In the 1830s, the average manufacturing worker put in 70-hour weeks. Though the 70-hour workweek was reduced in 1890, workers still put in long hours, totaling 60-hours per week. Instead of working 9 or 10 hours seven days a week, union organizers focused on getting 8-hour work days on six days a week. They also wanted to get workers more days off, such as the Labor Day holiday.
However, there was one problem: neither the government nor any company recognized the first Monday in September as a day off work. In response, the organizers declared a one-day strike in the city. All participants marched in a parade and then adjourned together afterwards for a picnic. The event was described by the New York Tribune as a long political barbecue with “rather dull speeches.” So yes, barbecues are an integral component of the holiday, but don’t forget the reason behind the barbecue!
Celebrate the Meaning of Labor Day
Remember and thank the men who worked tirelessly to give us 40-hour work weeks. We have weekends thanks to them! And though the issue that inspired this holiday may seem resolved, the problem is actually coming back, likely due to technology. Instead of unplugging after a hard day’s work, workers stay connected. This is especially a problem for highly skilled white-collar workers. Use Labor Day as a time to reflect on your working habits. If you work all the time and never take a vacation, then start a new ritual that honors the original spirit of Labor Day. In the words of Donna Meagle from Parks and Recreation, “Treat yo self.” Give yourself the day off – a real day off, meaning you’re disconnected from any work devices. Shut it all off – your phone, computer, tablet, etc. Enjoy some time with your friends and family without any distractions while barbecuing like the original participants did over a century ago!
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