Labor Day became a legal holiday in 1894, to join the company of only a couple others at the time. George Washington’s birthday (often now referred to as President’s Day) was already a legal holiday, as was Christmas Day. The 4th of July was the only other at the time, although it was only an unpaid holiday for federal employees and not recognized as a federal holiday until 1938.
America was working its fingers to the bone! Labor Day is a celebration of the American worker, but oddly enough there’s discrepancy as to who originally suggested the idea for the holiday. What we do know is that during the late 1800s, there wasn’t much to protect the interest of American workers. The average American at the time worked 12-hour days, seven days a week, only to barely make ends meet, and on top of it, often in unsafe and unsanitary working conditions.
It was around this time that organized strikes and rallies protesting working conditions and wages were organized by labor unions, bringing awareness and the beginning of changes to workers’ rights. One particular strike resulted in the deaths of workers at the hands of federal troops dispatched to break the strike, and the official adoption of Labor Day was at least in part the attempt of the government to make amends.
So that’s the low-down on Labor Day. Whether we think about what it’s for or not, we know it’s a long weekend, and there’s probably going to be a cookout somewhere!
Even though we have it a lot easier than it used to be, we often still complain about work, don’t we? How many of us can’t wait to retire? That’s what we always say anyhow. But is it really true? Sure, in many ways I can’t wait, but how many people do you know that get jobs after they retire?
Why is that? It’s because we need something to do. I’ll be the same way. We’re not built to sit around and do nothing. Think of how stir-crazy you would get, and it’s simply not healthy.
We may all complain about working throughout our lives but think about what we get from it. Of course, we earn money, which is ultimately the reason we work, but we get a lot more than that. We learn and expand our knowledge. We are challenged to be creative. We develop relationships with people.
My coworkers are some of my best friends. It makes perfect sense. You see them every day. You work, laugh, complain, argue and eat lunch together. You pool together for the lottery when it gets really big and commiserate together when you don’t win. You build a relationship with coworkers that’s as important as any other in life.
Working is part of American culture, and we find ways to have fun at it, especially when we find ways to poke fun at it. There are movies about it. Who hasn’t seen Office Space? And there are songs about it. Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” is a hysterical approach to the thoughts of the American worker — as was the movie. Huey Lewis is taking what they’re giving ‘cause he’s working for a livin’. We all have Manic Mondays, just like the Bangles. We all work hard for the money like Donna Summer, and sometimes we’re just working for the weekend, like Loverboy.
Think about it. Where would we be without work and without our jobs? We’d have no money, but we’d have no friends and no direction. We should be glad that we work. But that doesn’t mean we don’t work hard and don’t deserve a holiday. This one is for us. Here’s to Labor Day!