As youngsters everywhere return to the classroom, and we all bask in the waning glow of summer, it is worthwhile to take a moment to reflect upon the history of and reasons behind the existence of Labor Day. Far more than just an opportunity to fire up the grill, lounge poolside or hit the links, Labor Day is a time to celebrate the economic and social achievements of the American worker. This year, we at Murray-Lobb urge you to take a moment and consider the monumental contributions that legions of workers have made and continue to make to our nation’s economy, defense and overall prosperity.
Gradual Evolution of the Holiday
The history of Labor Day in America differs somewhat from other federal holidays, in that it took shape in a rather piecemeal fashion. During the 1800s, it was customary for workers’ groups to hold picnics, parades and other large assemblies as a means to demonstrate support for issues affecting laborers. Rallies were routinely held as a means to advocate for shorter working hours or to call for wage strikes. However, in terms of the creation of a singular national holiday celebrating workers, it is often a particular gathering on September 5, 1882, in New York City which gets the credit.
The late 19th century was a time during which the labor movement in America was gaining real steam. New York’s Central Labor Union amassed power by linking many smaller unions into one large advocacy force. In May of 1882 it was proposed that all of the unions gather together in early September for a massive festival. After months of planning, the workers were set to congregate at what was then the largest park in the city on the appointed September day.
Though the planned parade got off to a slow start, crowds of laborers began to arrive, and the event ultimately drew thousands. Music, beer, food, dancing, fireworks and inspirational speeches from union leaders all combined to create a memorable day for those involved. In the end, major newspapers deemed the assembly an utter success, and each subsequent year brought more and more similar events to cities across the country.
Federal Recognition of Labor Day
Over time, localities from coast to coast began to emphasize the importance of honoring the nation’s labor force, with local municipalities being the first to pass ordinances creating official observances. These developments led to initiatives calling for similar action on the state level, with Oregon being the first to pass such legislation in 1887. Very quickly, four additional states established Labor Day as a statewide holiday. By 1894, well over 20 states had created such a holiday, and in June of the same year, the United States Congress passed its own legislation decreeing that the first Monday in September would henceforth be a federally recognized holiday known as Labor Day.
Celebrating America’s Labor Force
Though it is easy to focus primarily on squeezing in a last bit of summertime fun before fall descends upon us, it is important not to overlook the underlying reason for Labor Day’s existence. America’s labor force, past and present, has been a vital factor in the creation of an economic powerhouse the likes of which the world has never seen. At Murray-Lobb, we hope you will take some time this holiday weekend to contemplate the incomparable achievements of the American workforce and pay tribute to the countless contributions laborers have made to the establishment of our robust way of life as well as our political democracy. In the ever-astute words of the Greek dramatist Sophocles, “without labor, nothing prospers.”