Beer, chips and barbecues with family and friends…that’s Labor Day. Right? Labor Day begins the school year for our youngsters and reminds us to put our white pumps in the closet. Labor Day closes the door on summer and opens the pantry of fall’s harvest. Why, again, do we call this weekend reprieve Labor Day if all we do is sit around in lawn chairs watching Uncle Bob do cannonballs? Why don’t we write our congressman and tell him to change it to Not-So Labor Day, Break Day, Day-Off Day or Un-Labor Day? Then I had an idea. Perhaps I should find out why we celebrate Labor Day.
Local Labor Day celebrations began over a hundred years ago in 1882 and were created by the labor movement in New York City. Slowly, the idea of celebrating “the working man’s holiday” developed until 1885 when most major cities around the country spent the first Monday of September acknowledging workers. Even though Labor Day began in New York, Oregon was the first state in 1887 to pass laws marking the holiday. Congress made the event a national holiday in 1894; the first Monday in September forever since has been Labor Day.
In 1898, Samuel Gompers, founder and longtime president of the American Federation of Labor stated, “Labor Day differs in every essential way from the other holidays of the year in any country. All other holidays are, in a more or less degree, connected with conflicts and battles of man’s prowess over man, of strife and discord for greed and power, of glories achieved by one nation over another. Labor Day…is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race or nation.”
Because of the month it is observed, Labor Day also marks the end of the summer. Parents and children are preparing for the first day of school. People are returning from the last fling of summer and East Coast residents are still honoring the age-old rule of putting away their sandals and white clothing until next Memorial Day. The exact origin of this fashion etiquette is still unknown to us. When we celebrate this Labor Day on September 7, we should remember that the labor of the American worker has made this country what it is today. It has the world’s largest economy, with the highest standard of living, and the world’s best democracy. W