The American Labor Day holiday was first organized and celebrated by the Central Labor Union in New York City on Sept. 5, 1882. Two year later, as the idea spread to celebrate a “workingmen’s holiday,” the union selected the first Monday in September to be the official common date.
All across the country, industrial centers began holding celebrations of their own, following general guidelines set in the first proposal of the holiday. Each would include a street parade, a festival and amusements — all for the enjoyment of the workers and their families.
The legislation that established Labor Day as a legal holiday was passed on Feb. 21, 1887, in Oregon and four more states followed suit that same year. There is some dispute, even a century later, as to who was the actual “founder” of the holiday, but that should be left to your own research.
For most modern Americans, Labor Day is just another day off and a last break to end summer. But it should still be held as a celebration of the working class who build our streets, run our factories, and keep the infrastructure of America up and running.
When I think of Labor Day, I think of those in my family who worked long, exhausting hours with low pay and virtually no benefits or vacation time. Many worked at National Cash Register in Dayton, Ohio. In fact, my father worked there during the 1950s and ’60s for a whopping $1.50 per hour (around $9 in today’s money), and that was some 30 cents higher than the minimum wage at the time.
In my opinion, hard work is something to which a lot of modern Americans today seem to be allergic, for lack of a better description. Our information-driven economy has many of us office-bound, tied to a desk and a computer screen, rarely to experience the kind of manual work necessary at the turn of the century when the Labor Day holiday first started.
Constant complaints about how immigrants “take” the jobs of Americans are unfounded, to say the least. Those jobs are always available, but no one seems to want them — they’re hard. Immigrants looking for a home in the Land of the Free simply appear to be more willing to work, taking any job necessary to provide for their families. America was built on this kind of fortitude and it should be admired.
Instead of being so closed-minded, Americans should be more appreciative that someone is still willing to work hard without complaint, day in and day out, to the benefit of the rest of us. Papers or not, any person willing to work hard in this country and benefit the greater good is an American.
I come from a long line of hard workers. There was no privilege in any branch of my family — and I mean absolutely none. My ancestors and immediate family were factory workers, truck drivers, farmers, coal miners, and a host of other grueling occupations. To me, Labor Day is a day to salute my own heritage and a way to be thankful that my family saw fit to encourage me to go to college and pursue my own interests.
But I was not coddled nor did I have it easy. I paid for my own education. I drove a truck for my dad, worked in a plastics factory, swept floors, worked in a tire and auto repair shop, and helped manage our farm and livestock. Without those experiences, I’d be a very different person and I’m grateful for them. I still do that kind of work on occasion, but, gratefully, I don’t have to depend on it for my livelihood and I have the utmost respect for those who do.
So this Labor Day, regardless of your occupation, income or professional position, consider those who might have it tougher or may not have the same privileges. Labor Day celebrates all workers, but the highest tribute should go to those who do the hardest work and continue to maintain the standard of living for Americans in all walks of life.
Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer. Deer In Headlines is distributed by GLD Enterprises Communications, Ltd. More at deerinheadlines.com.