Opinion: The Importance of Labor Day

Naomi Gutierrez, Reporter

Traditionally observed on the first Monday of September, Labor Day is celebrated as tribute to the contributions that millions of Americans make to the social and economic development of the United States.

But as Jay L. Zagorsky, Senior Lecturer at Boston University, puts it, “Today Labor Day is no longer about trade unionists marching down the street with banners and their tools of trade. Instead, it is a confused holiday with no associated rituals.”

So, as we go about this year’s Labor Day, we may find it beneficial to reflect on its importance by asking ourselves two questions; where exactly did Labor Day come from and why is it an important part of America’s history?

Labor Day originates in America’s worst chapter for labor laws and workers rights- the Industrial Revolution era. During this time, hundreds of thousands of Americans migrated to cities to find jobs in factories where they would experience 12-hour workdays seven days a week to hopefully make enough to survive. Kids as young as five would work right along with the adults, expected to work at the same rate in even more dangerous conditions.

The poor working conditions gradually riled up workers enough that America saw its first labor unions and workers’ rights activist appearing during this era. These groups worked tirelessly against the factories and cooperation aiming to aspire change, whether it be in wages or regulations. Though aside from the riots, strikes, and rallies, workers unions, itching for a change coined the “workingmen’s holiday” where they encouraged workers to take a day off from work. But it would take much more before any sort of “workingmen’s holiday” would be recognized by the federal government.

Like many things in America’s history, Labor Day sees its own fair share of violent roots. On May 4, 1886, a labor protest rally in Chicago turned violent after a bomb was thrown at police. The rally itself had been spurred as an effect of the brutal killing and wounding of several workers by Chicago police at a rally the day before. At this event, eight people died as a result of the violence that day in a rally that would be known as the Haymarket Affair.

The effects of the Haymarket Affair would ripple on for eight years until the boycott of Pullman Railways. In 1894, the boycott of the Pullman railways, organized by the American Railroad Union, created mass civil unrest between workers and the government. As a response, the government dispatched hundreds of federal troops to Chicago where the boycott was taking place resulting in the deaths of over a dozen workers and in severed ties between workers and Congress.

The unrest between American workers and Congress led to President Grover Cleveland signing into effect the observation of Labor Day as a national holiday on June 28,1894.

The U.S. Department of Labor cites that Labor Day “pays tribute to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership – the American worker.”

So next time that Labor Day rolls around, remind yourself of the scarifies the American laborers have made and will continue to make for the prosperity of not only America, but the American people as well: and do as the original laborers intended- enjoy your day off from work.



U.S. Department of Labor


USA Today


The Conversation