Labor Day meaning
I wanted to see whether anybody I knew understood the true significance of Labor Day.
I must confess that I was unaware of its complex origins. Maybe once, in 1967, when Mr. Sheldon, my South High School history teacher, gave us his Labor Day lectures. Rita Lozano, my hidden love since Casa Loma Elementary School, was a major distraction in class, diverting my focus away from social studies and onto how I planned to marry her. Mr. Sheldon’s Labor Day lecture was never remembered, either.
I conducted my own unscientific poll with relatives and close friends to attempt to verify my own historical shortcomings and give Labor Day due to honor.
History professors, labor leaders, political politicians, lobbyists, or anybody linked to unions were not among my tiny circle of acquaintances. I even inquired about Dutch Bros. Coffee’s young barista.
I posed a simple question: “How does Labor Day affect you?”
Their first reaction was always a perplexed Scooby Doo tilt of the head with a “Ruh-roh” answer. Here’s an example of what they said:
“It has something to do with labor,” says the narrator.
“It means a three-day weekend for us.”
“Summer vacations are coming to an end.”
I blame myself for not educating my children more about Labor Day, its importance in the fight for workers’ rights, and why it is such a significant day in American history. Labor Day’s origins and significance, like many other liberties and advantages we currently enjoy, may be easily overlooked in the flurry of national holidays.
I offer this unofficial abbreviated history lecture with a tip of the cap to Mr. Sheldon, God rest his soul.
The first Labor Day celebration took place in New York City on September 5, 1882, according to Dictionary.com. Approximately 10,000 union members marched in a parade to commemorate American workers who did not have the labor laws that we now take for granted. “This was the height of the industrial revolution, and to make a livelihood, the typical American worked 12-hour days, seven days a week.”
According to History.com, “Congress enacted an act making Labor Day a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories in the aftermath of major upheaval and in an effort to restore relations with American workers.” President Grover Cleveland signed it into law on June 28, 1894. “
Labor Day’s evolution as a nationwide “working man’s holiday” is a study in political maneuvering, boycotts, strikes, and tragic fatalities. However, along the way, numerous workers’ rights and freedoms were established, which many of us today take for granted.
Here’s how I feel about Labor Day.
My maternal grandmother comes to mind whenever I think about Labor Day. She gave up her life to come live with us
and assist my father in raising me and my seven siblings. Spending the evening hand-watering our front yard while smoking a Lucky Strike cigarette was her time off.
I remember my father, a carpet installer whose typical days lasted 10 to 12 hours and whose notion of relaxation was to sit in his lawn chair and drink a Coors while watching us play baseball with our neighborhood buddies in our backyard.
I also think of the farmworkers we see in strawberry fields, orange groves, and grapevines,
where 80 percent to 90 percent of the produce is hand-harvested on the hottest summer days and coldest winter days. Gardeners, construction workers, street pavers, cement masons and concrete finishers, and anybody working outdoors in our often harsh environment come to mind.
There is a slew of others I like and could name.
When I hear someone complain about how hot it is walking from their air-conditioned house to their air-conditioned vehicle, to their air-conditioned workplace, back to their air-conditioned car, then back to their air-conditioned home, it quietly c me. Really?
Whatever Labor Day means to you, whether it’s barbecuing, spending time with family and friends,
or just relaxing at home, let’s offer gratitude to all those who have worked hard to make our nation the envy of the world.