Friday, August 31, 2007

Labor Day

With the Labor Day weekend upon us, I thought I'd post some amusing facts about the holiday and how it came to have such a colorful history. Believe it or not, the holiday isn't just the "end of summer", the beginning of football season, or the "last chance to wear white."

Its roots still lie mainly in the working class and the struggles spawned in the labor movement of the late 19th and 20th centuries.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Labor Day originated as "a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country."

This is important, given the Labor movement's struggles for relevance over the last few decades. But what sets the holiday apart from others is also interesting: "All other holidays are in a more or less degree connected with conflicts and battles of man's prowess over man, of strife and discord for greed and power, of glories achieved by one nation over another. Labor Day...is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation."

The idea was to "celebrate a "workingmen's holiday"...which spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country." It was later declared a federal national holiday in 1894. But do you know why it was celebrated in September?

According to Wilstar, "the Socialist Party held a similar celebration of the working class on May 1. This date eventually became known as May Day, and was celebrated by Socialists and Communists in commemoration of the working man. In the U.S., the first Monday in September was selected to reject any identification with Communism."

Since Marx and communism are, after all, central tenets in much of basic sociology, it's interesting to note that our own Labor movement, often derided by critics as "socialistic" and even "communistic" during the day, went to great lengths to distance themselves from the actual Communism/Socialism of the 20th century.

Or to put it another way, you have Karl Marx to thank for your day off Monday.

Think about that while you are enjoying barbecue, football, and other assorted "end of summer" activities this weekend. As the picture suggests above (and like so much of our country's history), Labor Day was built on the backs of the laborer.

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