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The Many Sides of Labor Day

The Many Sides of Labor Day
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Labor Day has always been an important day in my year. My mother taught me that I had to put away my white clothes on Labor Day as it wasn’t socially acceptable to wear white after Labor Day. The day marked the end of summer and the coming of fall, thus goodbye to my whites and summer hues.

Labor Day also seems to be a marker on the academic calendar. Young children through college age can be heard asking “Does your school go back before or after Labor Day?” People not concerned about dressing etiquette or education are happy to have a day off from work. And grocers are thrilled as it has become a huge backyard barbecue day requiring many items from the local stores.

It is also a confusing day as I know we are supposed to be celebrating workers, yet so many have to work that day because there are so many back to school sales at nearby stores.


So, What is Labor Day About, Anyway?

us factory workers photo
Photo by Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

Is that it? Was Labor Day created so that we would know when it was socially appropriate to pack away summer or start school? Did we really need Labor Day to get a day off from work or to invite friends and neighbors over for a cookout? Somehow that does not seem right. There has to be more to this holiday.

Actually, there is a lot more to Labor Day, and it has deep roots in our American identity, though some other countries also celebrate a similar day. Labor Day was created in the 1880’s to honor the American worker and all he or she has done to make our country a great place to live. It was formed in response to the Labor movement, which spawned unions to help fight for better wages, shorter days, health care and support for injured workers, the formation of child labor laws, and improvement in overall working conditions.

This was not always a peaceful process, for example when the eight hour work day legislation did not pass in time to meet the May 1, 1886, deadline, a strike and the Haymarket Riot ensued in Chicago. Things started peacefully but fell apart in the afternoon. A bomb was thrown at police, killing a police officer and injuring others. The police fired back killing people in the crowd. Four people were hung for their involvement.

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