Labor Day, a history for today

America is approaching a traditional holiday in an untraditional way.  Labor Day, the last official “summer weekend,” is usually celebrated with parades, ballgames, shopping, and food. The recent and ongoing pandemic makes it different in many ways, but there is still cause for reflection, celebration, and (smaller) cookouts!

The roots of Labor Day date back to the 1880s in New York City, where rival union leaders joined together to protest unfair labor practices that plagued industry at the time. Shortly after that, 30 workers died at the hands of federal officials during the Pullman Strike. Thirty states joined together to celebrate Labor Day before it became a national holiday in 1894. Because of the diligence of these early pioneers, the industrial fatality rate has fallen by 97% since the early 1900s.

The first Labor Day on September 5, 1892, was the parade of unions and a vast picnic that took place in New York City. The labor movement was growing stronger, and the Central Labor Union decided that all workers should join for a “monster labor festival” in early September. For the location, the celebration committee chose Wendel’s Elm Park at 92nd Street and 9th Avenue, the largest park in New York City at that time. More than 20,000 tickets were sold by June. In August, the Central Labor Union passed a resolution ‘that the 5th of September be proclaimed a general holiday for the workingmen in this city.’

At first, they were afraid that the celebration would fail. Many workers in the parade lost a day’s pay to participate. When the parade began, only a handful of workers were in it, while hundreds of people stood on the sidewalk, mocking them. By the time the parade ended at the park, the jewelers and bricklayers’ unions had joined in with their bands. Ultimately there were an estimated 10,000 marchers in the parade.

Historian Linda Stinson tells us, “The park was decorated with flags of many nations. Everyone picnicked, drank beer, and listened to speeches from the union leadership. In the evening, even more, people came to the park to watch fireworks and dance. The newspapers of the day declared it a huge success, and ‘a day of the people.’ After that significant event in New York City, other localities began to pick up the idea for a fall festival of parades and picnics celebrating workers.”

Because of these forerunners who helped build the strength and prosperity of the United States of America, we get to celebrate the contributions of the working class.

Sometimes the true meaning of Labor Day gets taken for granted. Our kids get a free day from school, and we get a paid holiday from work. Make sure at some point this holiday weekend we remind the family that this is a super-important national holiday that honors the labor movement and all those who work hard in the United States.

If you’ve got kids, or grandkids, or neighbors’ kids, become a mentor. Plan to:

  • Take them to work!  Show them around and allow them to meet different people who can talk to them about their jobs too.   (If you’re working remotely, you can even do this via Zoom!)  This is a great way to expose kids to various types of work. Talk about how each specific job is important and how each person contributes to the company and society.
  • Put them to work! Teach your kids early the value of work ethic and having a passion for what you do. Even the littlest ones can participate by doing chores. As they get older, babysitting, newspaper delivery, pet-sitting, or helping with neighbors or at church can start them on the road to earning money. Discuss how they can help other kids – tutoring younger children or volunteering at camps or clubs.
  • And as children become more excited about working, take them to the library! Look for books to teach about different jobs and how everyone’s work is vital to the community.  For remote books on e-readers, libraries have an excellent selection as does Amazon kindle unlimited on various subjects such as Labor Day, Military, and Career Ideas for Kids (this might need parental supervision). 

No matter what you do to celebrate and share the importance of work, it matters. This holiday weekend, let’s remember those who paved the road for us. And let’s pay-it-forward to the next generation so that they can do their part to keep our country healthy and prosperous.

 If you are looking for work, please follow Pinnacle Search Partners on LinkedIn.  We are “laboring” diligently to fill open positions and provide you with helpful tips during your job search.