Labor Day: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How

Night sounds intensify as August draws to a close. Though a cooler night air usually means a more comfortable night’s sleep, the sounds of singing crickets and katydids always wash me with a bit of melancholy since I associate them with starting back to school. For many of us, the Labor Day holiday signifies the end of summer.
The first Monday in September, Labor Day, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.
The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City, when the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic celebrating a “workingmen’s holiday.”
The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations and many states had already adopted the holiday when, in June of 1894, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday for the entire country.
The first proposal of the holiday outlined a street parade to exhibit to the public “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. This became the pattern for the celebrations of Labor Day. (For our city, our parade comes a week later to kick-off our annual Columbiana Street Fair.)
The vital force of our labor added materially to the highest standards of living and the greatest production the world has ever known, and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership – the American worker.
The founder and longtime president of the American Federation of Labor, Samuel Gompers, said, “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.”
I don’t agree with Gompers’ conclusion that our labor unions’ struggles have nothing to do with “man’s prowess over man” or with greed and power. Still, I am very thankful for my husband’s union job, which has provided for us for more than 20 years. Labor Day not only provides me a reminder of this fact, but, since school begins in August, it’s the first holiday my daughter looks forward to during the school year.
Though most farming families cannot readily take a day off from daily commitments to their animals or crops, I hope we will all have a leisure moment to reflect on what is good in our lives.

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