You might think of Labor Day as just a holiday for picnics and barbecues, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Labor Day celebrates your rights as a worker, and it was hard-earned by workers’ rights advocates in the late 19th century, along with many laws that protect workers. Read on to learn a little about what’s behind this holiday, and who you have to thank for your day off in the sun.
The Other Civil War
The struggles that led to the holiday’s creation came about during a time of transition in America. Traditional farming was beginning to give way to industrialized factory work. In the Industrial Age, wages were low, pensions didn’t exist, and sick days were unheard of. Workers’ attempts to organize were met with opposition from both business and government.
Still, worker’s fought for their rights, and the battle was long, violent, and deadly. Many historians have referred to the struggle for workers’ rights as the “other civil war” in the US. During this time, thousands of workers died in unsanitary and unsafe conditions in factories and mines. Many of the victims were children.
Without the hard work of many Americans like Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr, who founded Chicago’s Hull House in 1889 and worked diligently to pioneer social reform, we wouldn’t have workers’ rights as we know them today.
The First Labor Day Celebration
The first Labor Day celebration in the US was a parade held on September 5, 1882 by unions in New York. The parade was billed as a celebration of the strength and the spirit of American workers. The parade was organized to draw attention to the pressing need for decent wages, reasonable work hours, and the right to organize. The first Labor Day drew tens of thousands of participants to Union Square Park, mostly workers and their families.
While the path to a national holiday wasn’t easy, the federal holiday was signed into law 12 years later by President Grover Cleveland. He had just sent out troops to break up a strike. The holiday was most likely approved in order appease American workers.
How Workers Are Protected Today
Great strides have been taken to improve worker’s rights since the first official Labor Day was recognized. Child labor has been abolished, safe and healthy work environments are guaranteed with federal laws such as Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), Black Lung Benefits Act (BLBA), Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and many others, and the minimum wage compensation of workers has increased tremendously. Now it’s illegal to be discriminated against due to race, sex, religion, or color. Workers have access to health insurance, rights to sick leave, and family medical leave.
The responsibility falls to the employer to make sure they hire employees the right way, making sure that they avoid violating laws designed to protect American workers.
Remember Why You Have the Day Off
The workers of America are what drive our economy; their steadfast work ethic, iron-gilded integrity, and firm dedication. Labor Day celebrates these workers for all they have given in the past, and all they will provide in the future.
So here’s to you! Enjoy your well-earned day off, and remember the pioneering workers and activists who made it happen.
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