From the Capitol: Celebrating the History of Labor Day

August 28, 2014

Our country was built by the hard work of many. From the factories of the northeast to the farms out west, our nation was created, supported and nurtured by the drive of the American worker.

Thus, it is only fitting that we have a special holiday to honor American workers, to celebrate our work ethic and all that has been done by those before us and those around us to grow our country into the economic and social leader we are today.

Labor Day is more than just a day to enjoy the final days of summer vacation and beach season. It is a day to honor the people who keep our businesses and our nation running. It is also a day to remember those who fought to protect the rights of workers and quality of life for all people in the United States.

The national holiday was born from the Labor Movement of the mid to late 19th century. As the Industrial Revolution boomed across the United States, men, women and children were often pushed to work long hours (12 hours a day, 7 hours a week) in poor and dangerous conditions for little wages. To fight for their rights, people began to organize and demanded improved working conditions for all workers. As a result, age limits were put in place to protect children from being forced into dangerous jobs, all workers were guaranteed better wages, and efforts were made to stop employers from overworking people.

The workers spoke up for their rights back then, and as a result, today our nation has extremely positive, safe and healthy working conditions that have fostered incredible industrial and technological achievements.

Labor Day is a celebration of this history, these accomplishments, and the people who continue to work hard every day. The holiday first came about during the height of the Labor Movement. On September 5, 1882, thousands of workers took unpaid time off to march in a parade from New York’s City Hall to Union Square in a celebration of their rights and accomplishments.

The idea of a holiday complete with parades and time for reflection to celebrate workers quickly spread in other industrial cities. The holiday became official in some states first, with New York proposing the first bill to create the holiday and Oregon becoming the first state to enact such legislation in 1887. Other states, including Connecticut, also passed similar laws. Congress finally made Labor Day a federal holiday in 1894, designating the first Monday in September the annual day of celebration.

We as a nation have strong respect and appreciation for workers and labor, and that is thanks in part to the creators and supporters of Labor Day. It is a day to honor the daily contributions made by all people that preserve our prosperity, promote innovation and enhance our well-being.

This Labor Day, in between the barbeques and yard games, take a moment to reflect on how lucky we all are to live in a country that respects and honors our labor force – and enjoy the day off if you can.