You have the day off from school and your parents are at home instead of at work today. Perhaps you're enjoying the final days of summer with a delicious cook-out to celebrate. You’ve probably heard or read somewhere that the reason for that is because today is Labor Day. But what are we celebrating exactly on Labor Day?
The holiday is way more than just a day to relax with family while enjoying a cook-out and playing outside. Labor Day is an important day to both our past and future as a country. Labor Day reminds us of how things used to be and appreciate how they are now.
Labor Day is a national holiday celebrated on September 7th when we acknowledge and honor workers and laborers here in the United States, particularly those in manual labor like construction workers, factory workers, and warehouse workers. These workers help make our country strong and successful by working hard to provide the country with things they need for everyday life; things like cotton, vegetables and fruits, metal, iron, and oil. While we might see these workers enjoying good working conditions and getting decent pay now, it wasn’t always like that.
During the Industrial Revolution of the late 1700s and throughout the 1800s, laborers like factory workers and construction workers worked very long hours, even to the point of exhaustion. They would come home without any energy left from working more than 16 hours a day! Some of these workers were even children just like you! Can you imagine having to work long hours at a factory instead of attending school? To make matters worse, many of these workers worked under horrible working conditions like extreme heat and no running water. They also didn’t make enough money to support their families with food and decent shelter. This might all seem unreal to you, but that was the reality in American during this time.
Eventually, these workers grew very unhappy and even angry with their employers. They wanted to be paid a decent wage and have their working conditions improved. After all, everyone deserves water while working in the hot sun, right? These people formed unions, or groups of workers, and began demanding better wages and conditions for themselves and their fellow workers. On September 5, 1882, many of these workers took the day off in New York City as a form of protest, but also as a way of finally relaxing with their families after weeks of working without a day off. Since their employers wouldn't allow them a day off from their work duties, these workers took matters into their own hands and took the day off without any formal approval. This helped employers understand the value of their workforce.
But it wasn’t until the Pullman Strike of 1894 when railroad workers performed a strike that President Grover Cleveland began negotiating with the unions. The Pullman Strike stopped much of the nation’s railroad travel and traffic, a huge contributor to the nation’s economy. Without the railroad system running, many other parts of the countries and many businesses couldn't function appropriately. Much of the country depended on the railroad system. It's like if the delivery trucks stopped running for a few days. How would you get your online orders? How would a company get their supplies? What if people didn't get medicines on time? Having the railroad system not function helped the government understand that workers were people and needed to be treated with respect. President Cleveland declared September 7th as the national holiday known as Labor Day.
Even though this seems impossible now, it is important to remember this part of history so that we continue to support and show appreciation for the hard-working men and women that provide us with food, services, cotton for clothes, material for our homes. Almost everything we have is in one way or another provided to us by the workers of this country.
Remember, it is because of these brave and courageous men and women that you can have the day off and go to school instead of working in a hot factory with no running water!