Our Opinion: A reflection on Labor Day


Editor's Note: We originally published this editorial in 2010:

As millions of Americans take to the highways this (long) weekend, it's worth taking a quick look at the holiday that has, over the years, turned into the last gasp of summer as opposed to what was initially intended.

More than a century since its (supposed) inception, the annual celebration of the labor movement, dedicated to the economic and social achievements of American workers, and known as Labor Day, is still clouded by questions of how exactly the holiday started. The Department of Labor website lays a clear case for either Peter J. McGuire or Matthew Maguire to have first proposed the observance. There are other sources that lay claim the idea was borrowed from a Canadian holiday. At any rate, it is certain that the Central Labor Union adopted a proposal and an appointed committee organized the first Labor Day on Sept. 5, 1882 (a Tuesday), in New York City, with a demonstration and picnic.

By 1884 the observance was moved to the first Monday in September, annually, and the Central Labor Union urged other cities around the country to follow suit, an idea which spread as labor organizations continued to grow and spread throughout the U.S.

Consider the initial proposal for the holiday, "which called for a street parade to exhibit to the public 'the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations' of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families," according to the Department of Labor website. Today, these massive community events have been replaced in many cases with smaller gatherings of families and friends, usually around a barbeque.

And while most Americans find themselves preoccupied with rising unemployment figures and stagnant job grow as the country continues to try and pull itself out of a recession, chances are most are still looking forward to a long weekend "to unwind."

So, while unwinding this weekend, also take a moment to consider the following (again, from the Department of Labor): "The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership -- the American worker."


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