History of Labor Day Holiday Intertwines Work & Leisureby Sam Johnson
It's our final
summer fling with family or friends before we must face our long list of
autumnal duties -- raking leaves, cleaning windows, and preparing for the
onslaught of winter.
Labor Day Weekend is one of the few opportunities during the year to break up
the grueling tedium produced by a routinely long workweek -- one that has
actually increased over the past 40 years.
to a recent Harris study comparing American work and leisure, we have lost ten
hours of leisure time per week over this same period, and have lost 4 hours of
leisure per week in just the past 5 years.
In 2007 we
averaged 20 hours of leisure per week. But today, the average hours of leisure
per week has decreased to 16.
average adult worker spends 46 hrs. per week at their job, and just 16 hours
involved with leisure activities.
It's no wonder
then, that Labor Day has become one of America's favorite holidays, providing a
three-day escape from the rigors of the workplace and a chance to enjoy the
last glories of summer.
And that's in
part what the Labor Day holiday was intended to do -- provide a day off for
those who labored long and hard in the days before the 40-hour workweek.
the laborer was considered nothing more than a dispensable instrument in an
impersonal industrial and agricultural setting. It has only been within the
last hundred years that laborers have become increasingly valued for their
individual contributions and given some recognition and respect for their
The idea for a
day celebrating labor is attributed to Peter J. McGuire.
Born the tenth
child of a poor Irish-American family in 1852, McGuire went to work at the age
of 11 to help support his family. He worked long hours in the factories of New
York and even at a young age supported the move towards an eight-hour workday.
support for laborers, McGuire became an active leader in the Knights of Labor
founded in 1869, and president of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and
Joiners of America.
It was during
this time McGuire proposed a special day --
a "Labor Day" -- be set aside to honor workers. He felt it should
be "a festive day during which a parade through the streets of the city
would permit public tribute to American industry."
McGuire maintained that since the United States already set aside
special holidays to commemorate "the religious, civil and military
spirit" of the nation, it was only fitting that special attention should
likewise be paid to the industrial spirit of our country -- "that great
vital force of our nation."
fellow workers, McGuire officially proposed the idea of a "Labor Day"
to the New York Central Labor Union in May 1882, suggesting that it take place
on the first Monday in September.
His reason for
selecting that particular day was that "it would come at the most pleasant
season of the year, nearly midway between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving
and would fill a wide gap in the chronology of legal holidays."
His proposal met
with tremendous support, and the first Labor Day parade was held that fall,
Sept. 5, 1882 with over 10,000 people taking part.
In fact, his
idea was so well received it was repeated again the following year, and soon
other states joined in.
By 1894, 30
states had instituted a Labor Day holiday, and by 1928 every state in the union
except Wyoming had established the first Monday in September as Labor Day.
tremendous progress has been made since the days of Peter J. McGuire on behalf
of the workers of America to help them gain better working conditions, better
benefits, and to gain the respect and recognition they justly deserve.
But there are
still challenges to meet.
While it may be
true that over 1.1 million new jobs have been created in the private sector
over the last decade, the unemployment rate today is at a painfully high rate
of nine percent, and there are millions of people who want to work but are
unemployed and unable to celebrate the true meaning of Labor Day.
This weekend as
we celebrate "Labor Day" to honor American workers, and enjoy a well
deserved day off from the part that WE
play in this effort, we might also be mindful of those who cannot find work.
a nation so prosperous and proud should be able to find the means and
motivation to help all its members be prosperous and proud.
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