by EVELYN WONG
To many Americans, Labor Day symbolizes the end of summer, a day off and a family gathering; however, few people appreciate the true meaning of this federal holiday.
Annually held on the first Monday in September, Labor Day commemorates the accomplishments of American workers and the contributions they have made to the prosperity of their country.
According to history.com, the movements leading to the creation of Labor Day began during the late 1800s, at the peak of the Industrial Revolution. At that time, millions of Americans worked 84 hours a week in harsh conditions, scraping for money and food to feed their families. Similarly, young children and immigrants had low-paying jobs in dangerous and unsanitary environments.
By the early 1900s, many labor unions organized strikes and rallies to fight for higher pay, better working conditions and rights for overworked children. According to timeanddate.com, one of the most violent strikes was the Haymarket Riot of 1886, in which several Chicago policemen and workers were killed.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the first Labor Day parade occurred on Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City. The New York Central Labor Union had proposed to gather workers for a “monster labor festival”; during the parade, 10,000 people took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square.
The Central Labor Union’s idea of creating “a general holiday for the workingmen” inspired other places across the country to form similar events. By 1894, over 20 states had passed legislation recognizing Labor Day as a legal holiday.
On June 26, 1894, in response to a railroad strike led by the American Railroad Union, the federal government made a futile attempt to break the strike by sending troops to Chicago. According to newworldencyclopedia.org, more than a dozen workers were killed in the riots that ensued.
In order to make peace with the American workers, Congress passed an act creating a legal holiday dedicated to them. The act was approved on June 28, 1894, and the first Monday in September of every year became known as Labor Day.
For many years, people saw Labor Day as a time to discuss ideas and strategies for creating better working conditions and salaries. Today, it is associated more with leisure, family activities, sports events and end-of-summer parties.
Nevertheless, Labor Day is a time for the nation to honor those who have helped shape the country’s wealth, strength and well-being: the American workers.