Happy Labor Day 2015!
It’s a day to celebrate American workers who have in the past and still do work with their hands.
Did you know that Labor Day was recognized as a federal holiday in 1894, but some states had already started celebrating it? It’s held on the first Monday in September.
For many, it marks the unofficial end of summer. When I was in elementary school, we didn’t start the school year until the day after Labor Day.
My family would make a trip to Hendersonville, NC in the 1950’s to see my Granny and go to the Apple Festival down town. I can remember Critt and I sitting on the curb with our knees resting on our chins. We waved small flags. There were bands, floats, old cars, clowns, and lots of people to keep us entertained; this parade hasn’t changed much, but I am not sure I could get up off the curb if I was able to get down there.
Many hawkers walked Main Street with their wares, including my favorite candy apples. We always ended the day at my great grandmother’s house with a picnic. Since several of her eight children lived in the town, the yard was cluttered with chairs and a groaning table of fried chicken with all the trimmings. (Mother never had to persuade my dad to go visiting on this day; he knew it would be good eating.)
Today we celebrate this three day weekend with cook outs, road trips, sales, and just enjoying an extra day off. Workers in the 1880’s fought for this holiday.
Laborers in the 1800’s often worked twelve hours a day, every day of the week. In 1882, Pittsburgh was the place for one of the first Labor Day parades. Most men worked 84 hours a week for $10 in the steel mills. Andrew Carnegie owned those mills.
Tennessee Ernie Ford recorded the plight of mill workers in “Sixteen Tons.”
In 1894, President Grover Cleveland made Labor Day a federal holiday after a failed attempt to break up a railroad strike.
Typically clad in a black dress, her face framed by a lace collar and black hat, the barely five-foot tall Mother Jones was a fearless fighter for workers’ rights—once labeled “the most dangerous woman in America” by a U.S. district attorney.
Mary Harris Jones was an activist and radical who helped win the end to child labor in America. In 1897, Jones addressed a union convention where the workers began to affectionately call her “Mother Jones.”
Called the “Children’s Crusade,” Jones lead children on a march to Teddy Roosevelt’s hometown to show the millionaires in New York the faces of child labor. Their banner said “we want to go to school, not mines.“This march paved the way to the end of child labor.
Famous for writing “This Land is Your Land, This Land Is My Land” and numerous other radical songs, Guthrie’s songs captured the history of the movement.
The Industrial Revolution changed our country from an agrarian society, where products were crafted as needed by hand, to machine-aided factories in the cities. For protection against the industrial giants who owned the factories and the company stores, the workers protested low wages and long hours. They weren’t afraid of hard work, but the schedules were back-breaking.
Samuel Gompers, founder and longtime president of the American Federation of Labor said, “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.”
I have enjoyed researching this holiday today. Labor Day isn’t about putting up my white shoes and white linen or recognizing that summer is officially over. It is a day to remember the contributions workers have made to the strength and growth of our country. There is much to be grateful for.
“The reward of a thing well done, is to have done it.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson