For many of us, Labor Day marks the traditional end to summer, much as Memorial Day marks its beginning. In times past, Labor Day even had a sartorial importance, as those of higher caste wouldn’t dream of wearing white clothing or accessories past the date of its celebration.
But, of course, as the U.S. Government itself points out, “Labor Day—the first Monday in September—celebrates the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of America.”
It all began on Sept. 5, 1882, when “Some 10,000 workers assembled in New York City to participate in America’s first Labor Day parade. After marching from City Hall, past reviewing stands in Union Square, and then uptown to 42nd Street, the workers and their families gathered in Wendel’s Elm Park for a picnic, concert, and speeches. This first Labor Day celebration was eagerly organized and executed by New York’s Central Labor Union, an umbrella group made up of representatives from many local unions.
“Debate continues to this day as to who originated the idea of a workers’ holiday, but it definitely emerged from the ranks of organized labor at a time when they wanted to demonstrate the strength of their burgeoning movement and inspire improvements in their working conditions,” adds Uncle Sam’s website.
“Labor Day is a time for honoring the working people of this country,” Sen. Bernie Sanders explained in 2015. “It is also a time to celebrate the accomplishments of the activists and organizers who fought for the 40-hour work week, occupational safety, minimum wage law, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and affordable housing. These working people, and their unions, resisted the oligarchs of their day, fought for a more responsive democracy, and built the middle class.”
Samuel Gompers, founder and president of the American Federation of Labor, said of the holiday, “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.”
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