Your grill is all fired up, or maybe you’ve browsed the paper for all the great sales, or your family car is packed with camping equipment in preparation for this holiday weekend. All this excitement is leading up to the official send off to summer: Labor Day Weekend. Everybody gears up to send off summer with a bang through parties, vacations, and super sales. One last weekend to go swimming or camping before the Fall weather settles in.
But isn’t this weekend supposed to be about something else? Oh that’s right: it’s Labor Day! But what exactly is Labor Day? With all these summer distractions, we seem to have forgotten what this holiday weekend is supposed to represent. Labor Day is meant to honor the labor unions and movement in general. This seems to have been forgotten behind all of the hooplah of drinking and shopping. It is even more important to pay attention to in this political climate where the union and worker’s rights have suddenly become the enemy of the far right.
The true story of how Labor Day came to be is far more exciting than any party you might attend this weekend, or at least to us history nerds. The very first Labor Day was created in 1885 by Central Labor Union in New York, but became an official holiday in 1894 by Grover Cleveland. The holiday was established less to honor the workers than to pacify the labor unions who were in a heated battle with the US Government.
Basically Cleveland created the holiday in order to ease tensions created during the Pullman Strike, which was a nationwide railroad strike that halted train travel beginning in the Chicago area. This being the days before cars and airplanes, the train was the main mode of transportation. Imagine the entire airline industry going on strike today. Anyway, there were serious wage reductions and the workers fought back in 27 states. Everything raged out of control when strikers and sympathizing protesters set fire and the US Marshalls were called in. Unfortunately, everything spiraled even further out of control with the US soldiers killing several striking workers. You read that correctly, the government murdering it’s citizens.
And here is where Cleveland stepped in. In 1894, he made it his priority to reconcile with the Labor Union Movement. He instituted a national holiday in order to honor the labor unions and workers around the world. It was originally mean to only be a day to honor them, a description or the original celebration included a parade that would celebrate “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.” Somehow a century later it had evolved into another consumer driven party.
But that doesn’t mean you have to ignore what Labor Day really stands for. As we mentioned, we often forget the sacrifices those who came before us have made. Especially when the economy is suffering and the some in power have made a vendetta in breaking down the unions, the unions that so many died to create. Maybe this weekend, try to fit in a little labor right’s history or attend a local parade. Or at least, think of those who sacrificed their lives so you could be treated fairly in your workplace. They are the reason you have Monday off and can kick back while drinking a brewski as the summer ends.