As students enjoy their three-day weekend this September, laborers across the country are being celebrated and honored on Labor Day.
The holiday, which is celebrated on the first Monday of every September, is a time when many Americans relax at home or spend time with family and friends. Despite the word “labor” in its name, relaxation is exactly what Labor Day is meant for.
“Something that is part of the labor movement, and has remained part of the labor movement, is that you use leisure activities,” said Samuel White, Ph.D. and WVU professor.
However, the right to participate in a fun three-day weekend was not always guaranteed.
Labor Day is considered to have first been celebrated in New York City in 1882, during a time when the labor movement was at its strongest. Workers, demanding the eight-hour workday and better conditions, were fighting for their rights to be recognized by their employers.
“There were really no supports that existed in our society,” White said. “Very few regulations governed the workplace.”
This included no regulations on child labor or the minimum wage.
Labor unions, wanting to bring awareness to these issues, organized what is known as the first Labor Day, not only as a day off from work, but a day of demonstration and protest.
“In the case of New York City, Labor Day parades involved striking, and people taking a day off of work without authorization,” White said.
Much like the first Labor Day, which was celebrated with a parade, celebrations and gatherings are still held today. This includes both national and local events, such as the annual Labor Day picnic hosted by the Marion County AFL-CIO, which was canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although many of the goals represented in the first demonstrations have been accomplished, White says there are still labor causes being fought for today. Some activists are advocating for an increase in the minimum wage and family leave time, among other things.
While the labor movement is much smaller than it was, other issues being created by the COVID-19 pandemic are helping to grow the labor rights movement.
“There are still parts of our economy where people work under very difficult conditions,” White said. “And the COVID-19 situation has exasperated some of those.”
As work conditions and labor representation continue to develop in American society, so will the efforts behind them. However, regardless of these changes, Labor Day will remain a day dedicated to celebrating and honoring laborers everywhere.