This editorial first ran in The Daily Star in 2004. It appears again this year in honor of Labor Day.
“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.”
— Samuel Gompers, American Federation of Labor founder
The phrase “Labor Day” may conjure up images of picnics, hot dogs and beaches _ a day of relaxation and, for students, one last day of freedom before going back to school.
But Labor Day once meant more than just going back to school and barbecues.
Though the actual founder of the American holiday of Labor Day remains subject to debate, it is known that a day was set aside for the celebration of a “workingmen’s holiday” by the Central Labor Union of New York in the late 19th century.
The union picked Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882, as the date for its event in New York City and decided to continue the tradition each September. By 1885, other unions around the country had taken up the idea, and in 1894, Labor Day was established as a federal holiday by the U.S. Congress.
Today, few of us will spend Labor Day at a union-sponsored event. Nationally, participation in labor unions continues to decline. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s recent assault on public unions is but one example of a political mindset openly hostile to organized labor.
The idea of Labor Day as a political holiday, a day to honor workers rather than their bosses, is a narrow definition of a day that can be recognized in a meaningful way by everyone, regardless of union membership.
But we should still take time to recognize the gains organized labor won for us all on this day — including the 40-hour work week, the abolition of child labor and the very notion of paid time off for sick leave or vacation.
Workers and employers who work on Labor Day can honor the holiday on the job by taking time to familiarize themselves with workers’ rights under the law.
We can also celebrate Labor Day by patronizing locally owned businesses throughout the weekend. By supporting our neighbors, we can contribute to the success of labor on a local level, keeping jobs close to home and keeping money flowing into the local economy.
We can’t always buy everything we need in locally owned stores, but Labor Day weekend is a good time to visit local merchants. We may be pleasantly surprised by what they have to offer.