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Celebrating the American worker on Labor Day

“Breaker boys” employed by the Pennsylvania Coal Company.

For many of us, Labor Day marks the traditional end to summer, much as Memorial Day marks its beginning.

But as the U.S. Labor Department 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 the first Labor Day celebration was organized and executed by New York’s Central Labor Union, an umbrella group made up of representatives from many local unions.

“Some 10,000 workers assembled in New York City,” according to the Labor Department. “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.”

Samuel Gompers

Samuel Gompers

“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.”

“Labor Day differs in every essential way from the other holidays of the year in any country,” said Samuel Gompers, founder and president of the American Federation of Labor. “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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