[September 7, 2020] You’ve probably been told that Labor Day in the United States is a unique tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of America. And, yes, that is true. But another perspective says that it’s also about hard work and family.
We should ask ourselves why. Why is it that we give special recognition to this day? Why is it so crucial that Labor Day is one of the ten federally recognized holidays? There are, in my opinion, two interrelated conditions why this is the case.
The first condition is that, in America, we live in a capitalistic nation where hard work, honesty, loyalty, and staying out of trouble with the law are highly valued. The vital force of labor, labor given freely without reservation, added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known. Such traditional ideas are tied closely to our economic circumstance and political democracy.
The second condition is that we also believe deeply in our families, our religions, and also the intrinsic value of work – as it is a precondition for supporting our family. Christianity is the spark that gave our nation its original drive and is the foundation for what Americans believe in. Christianity and Judaism are powerful forces that helped make America into an exceptional nation.
It should not be lost on anyone that when the idea of a special day for labor was set aside, it was to recognize free labor. That labor was gained traction after the U.S. Civil War was fought to end slavery. The very first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on September 5, 1882, in New York City. It was observed under the plans of the Central Labor Union. By mid-1894, Congress saw fit to pass an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday.
We should, nonetheless, stop and recall from our history that in the late 1800s, the average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks to eke out a basic living. Children as young as 5 or 6 toiled in mills, factories, and mines, earning a fraction of their adult counterpart wages.
The union movement was instrumental in helping improve the conditions of the average manufacturer worker. It was a difficult time. Violence was not uncommon. But as labor victories in the workplace progressed, conditions improved slowly, but they did improve. The idea of a “workingman’s holiday” became a reality and we should all celebrate that fact.
Today, Labor Day is celebrated with parties, street parades, and athletic events around the nation. Remember, those that came before us who worked hard to see to it that we are a mighty nation, one that has helped bring prosperity to the world.