Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Labor Day

Labor Day Flag
Labor Day Flag
Yesterday was Labor Day (labour to Brits). Labor Day is a public holiday that each year falls on the first Monday of September. Everyone in the country, except for Duke University staff and students, gets the day off work. Why? I hear you ask. What does Labor Day celebrate? Even Americans don't seem to know the answer to this question. When asked, the answer is simply that one gets the day off work -- 'nough said.

A quick google search later and I think that I may have the general gist, although it really was a quick google search. If you want to enlighten me further, or provide a better expanation of what Labor Day is, just drop in a comment.

It seems that Labor Day started with a parade in New York City, in 1882. The first parade was a protest march against the introduction of the eight hour working day. It was organised by the Central Labor Union, a trade union affiliated to a secret society that was an offshoot from the freemasons -- the Knights of Labor. Turnout to the march was in defiance of employers, who docked a day's pay from workers who attended. From there, the march became an annual event and spread to other areas. There was growing political pressure to designate this day a national holiday.

Then, in 1893, the American Railway Union called a strike over pay cuts and high rents that lasted through most of the following year as well. The strike and the union was crushed when President Cleveland declared the strike illegal and sent in 12,000 troops to break it up, resulting in two deaths. There was much criticism of President Cleveland's handling of the strike and 1894 was an election year. This gave those campaigning for a national holiday the fuel they needed and Labor Day was born. It was not enough to win Cleveland the election, though.

The lingering question is:

Is Labor Day a celebration of the working man; or is it an appeasement of the working man in the aftermath of a fatal blow to trade unionism in the USA; or third, has any such meaning been lost to its being relegated to just a celebration that marks the end of summer?

Here's a tongue-in-cheek brief history:

1882: The first Labor Day Parade occurs in the United States. Organized by the Knights of Labor, the event has a loose affiliation with the Ku Klux Klan. Hilarity ensues.

1884: In an election year, Grover Cleveland makes Labor Day a national holiday. Surprisingly, the creation of a majority of the public cares little about fails to help re-elect the President.

1920: Hallmark's Labor Day greeting cards fail to sell. Following this year, it is decided within the company that they will be better off creating holidays.

1966: Jerry Lewis begins his annual telethon to battle Muscular Dystrophy, which recently celebrated forty years of mediocre programming and lack of a cure.

1978: For the first time Labor Day is confused by a U.S. citizen as Memorial Day, a practice common for many to this day.

1980: A teacher in Madison Wisconsin's play, "The First Labor Day," fails to inspire in its goal to teach "“the true meaning”" behind the holiday.

1989: The first year Labor Day is looked at as less of a celebration of the working man and more of an excuse for the working man to get that much more intoxicated.
Luke Allen Hackney, The Banana Peel
First Labor Day Parade
The History of Labor Day
The Origins of Labor Day
Labor Day

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