What is Labor Day?


DARKE COUNTY — What does Labor Day mean to you?

Since its birth more than 120 years ago, the holiday has certainly seen a shift in attitude among the thoughts and values of the American public.

Established by an Act of Congress in 1894, September’s Labor Day holiday was originally created as a day to celebrate the contributions of workers to American society and its economy.

The legislation establishing Labor Day as a national holiday was signed into law by President Grover Cleveland, six days after the conclusion of the 1894 Pullman Strike, a labor dispute which had paralyzed America’s railroad traffic.

Historians consider Cleveland’s support for the holiday an attempt to reconcile with the organized labor movement. The president had ordered federal marshals and U.S. Army troops to break up the strike, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 30 strikers.

Labor Day was slated for the first Monday of September, largely out of Cleveland’s desire to avoid identifying the American version of the holiday with the International Workers’ Day, held on May 1.

The national recognition of Labor Day in 1894, however, was not the first time a day had been set aside to celebrate labor. The first occurred in New York City, which had established its own labor day in 1882.

Oregon, too, created a statewide labor day celebration in 1887, an act soon duplicated by 23 other states prior to the establishment of the federal holiday.

The U.S. Department of Labor webpage on the history of the holiday explains that, originally, Labor Day was set aside for street parades in metropolitan centers, to exhibit “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families.”

More than 100 years later, America’s commemoration of Labor Day has become much less about “esprit de corps” and much more about “recreation and amusement,” — things not necessarily related to the traditional idea of labor.

For many, Labor Day marks the end of the summer season, although autumn doesn’t officially begin until later in September. For a great number of kids, it heralds the beginning of a new school year.

Retailers and consumers see the Labor Day weekend, and even the week thereafter, as a sales bonanza, a time of profit and consumption often on par with November’s “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday.”

The holiday also falls near the opening seasons of professional, college and high school football.

For the ones lucky enough to get the day off work, Labor Day represents an occasion for picnics and cookouts with family and friends.

However one chooses to celebrate Labor Day, take a moment and please give a kindly thought to the hard-working men and women who keep American economy and industry running smoothly.

Or as my frequently overworked store manager friend likes to put it, “For those of you that get time off to enjoy this Labor Day weekend, be kind to those at the stores and destinations that are laboring for you.”

Opinions on holiday have changed since its inception

By Erik Martin

[email protected]

Erik Martin may be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 937-569-4314.

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