Flashback Friday: Labor Day
By Samantha Snead
Chief Copy Editor
Labor Day has been observed on the first Monday of September for over a century, yet few of us actually know the history behind this national holiday. Though its exact origins are unknown, records indicate that the holiday was first celebrated sometime in the late 19th century. The Industrial Revolution played a major role in the creation of Labor Day, as it became increasingly common for employers to require employees to work long hours, without any breaks or days off. In addition, many children as young as five or six years old had to go to work to help supplement the poor wages their parents received. Those who had recently immigrated to the country and who lived in poverty were especially affected by these negative working conditions, and came to be some of the most compelling cases for labor reform in the United States.
Labor unions began to form all across the country in response to the dangerous working conditions, with unions staging rallies and strikes as methods of protest. One of the largest and most influential of these protests involved the American Railroad Union, which declared a boycott of George Pullman’s train cars because Pullman had chosen to lay off his workers and reduce their wages when the recession hit. This boycott eventually became so violent that then-President Grover Cleveland had to deploy 12,000 troops to stop it. Though the boycott itself didn’t last long, it certainly helped raise awareness about the unfair treatment workers faced, and was an integral part of Congress’ decision to officially declare Labor Day a national holiday.
Today, Labor Day is somewhat of a controversial holiday, as many believe its association with end-of-summer parties and the back-to-school season puts increasing strain on those who do have to work on the holiday. They say that its original intent, to honor the sacrifices and dedication of U.S. workers, has been lost along the way. Others say that, while progress has been made, people shouldn’t be so quick to call it a victory, as many other crucial workplace problems have yet to be appropriately addressed, like the systematic discrimination against applicants and workers based on age, race, and ethnicity.
Though today’s workers certainly still face significant obstacles, the persistence of those fighting for labor reform has had an incredible impact, helping to establish guidelines for fair work practices and protecting employees against many forms of unfair treatment by employers.