For majority of people Labor Day means a three-day weekend with picnics and barbecues, like a farewell to summer and one last hurrah before the new school year gets underway in earnest.
Labor Day, which is celebrated always on the first Monday in September, was created to honor the contributions of the nation’s working men and women and their achievements.
The U.S. Labor Department describes the holiday: “It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country.”
The first Labor Day celebration was in 1882 in New York City, organized by the Central Labor Union.
The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), which represents about 12.2 million members, says that first holiday was marked by a march to demand an eight-hour workday and other labor law reforms.
At that time, about 20,000 workers made their way up Broadway carrying signs that read “Labor Creates All Wealth” and “Eight Hours for Work, Eight Hours for Rest, Eight Hours for Recreation.”
During the time other unions followed suit and by 1894, the Labor Day holiday had been adopted by 23 states.
Later on came that year’s deadly Pullman strike, in which government forces shot and killed several striking railroad workers in Illinois. It gave birth to the modern labor movement and added new urgency to the formation of a holiday that honors it.
“In what most historians call an election year attempt to appease workers after the federal crackdown on the Pullman strike, shortly after the strike was broken, President Grover Cleveland signed legislation making the first Monday in September Labor Day and a federal holiday,” according to the AFL-CIO, which also notes that the gambit did not work: “Cleveland lost the election.”
In 2011, the holiday comes on the heels of a bruising union showdown in Wisconsin, in which Governor Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers moved to curb public employees’ collective bargaining rights and have them pay more for benefits. Its political ramifications were felt far beyond that state’s borders, with some seeing the outcome as a sign that public unions can now be challenged to their core.
Labor Day holiday is often used as the unofficial start of the general election campaign, and today is no exception. President Barack Obama and the field of Republicans who want to oust him have plans to address voters on this Labor Day.