Tomorrow is Labor Day. The historical roots of this day trace back to the last part of the nineteenth century. It was a time when the labor movement was forming in our country. The right of collective bargaining and belonging to a union was being established. It was not always a smooth process.
In fact, one reason we have Labor Day on the First Monday of September, while most of the world observe the day on May 1 is because of what happened in Chicago in 1886. There was a bombing in Chicago and President Grover Cleveland called for the emphasis to fall in September instead of May so it would not seem that we were supporting such violence. There was already a “Labor Parade” in early September in New York City so he choose that date.
We still have Labor Day but we see much less focus on organized labor in our nation than in earlier years. In the last few decades we have seen much of our nation’s manufacturing base shrink. And it was in manufacturing, the organized labor movement was at its strongest. Even in the smaller labor force we have seen the percentage that are a part of organized labor move from twenty percent in 1983 to just over eleven percent in 2013.
I think one great reason for Labor Day is to help us realize how dependent we are on each other. Though we take great pride in our culture the importance of the individual, none of us could survive without others. It truly takes a family, a community, and a nation for us to survive.
On the first Monday of September we stop many of our usual activities as schools close, bank and other financial institutions take the day off, and only the essential government services are open. It is a national holiday.
I do not grow any of the food that I eat, nor do I prepare much of it. I do not create any of the sources of energy that we are all so dependent on. Others serve to keep us safe at home and on the world stage. And I must confess I have never sown a single piece of clothing that I wear.
Even the simplest task can remind us of our dependency on others. Can you imagine what our city would look like if no one picked up our trash? If our streets were not matained?
The list of how each of us are dependent on the labors of others would be very long. Others teach our future generations. Others help heal and cure us when we sick or injured. Others cut our hair and clean our clothes. Still others maintain the multi ways we communicate together so we can be a community. And still others lead our community, our state, our nation so we can live a society of law and order.
When I go to buy what I need to live, I am dependent on many who have been a part of manufacturing and transporting what is needed. And of course, in most cases those who are in retail. The list could go on, but as I hope you see, we need at least a day to stop and realize that it is the labor of many that makes it all possible for each of us.
One thing I like about Labor Day is that it is one holiday with no gifts to buy, no cards to mail, no decorations to put out, and no traditions that have to be observed. It is a day we can all rest from our “labors” and enjoy the company of others.
Labor Day has changed over the years. In years gone by, it signaled the start of school. Our Children have been back in school over five weeks before Labor Day. In a political year, there was very little campaigning following the Conventions until there were big rallies on Labor Day. Have we missed a day in the past year with campaigning by someone, somewhere? It has become the traditional end of summer in our thinking, but with the weather sill in the nineties is it hard to say fall is here.
While the meaning has evolved for the day, it is still one of the most nationally observed holidays. It was one of the first of the “three day” weekend holidays that has proven so popular that we move some holidays around to create more of them. I wish you a safe and happy holiday tomorrow. Whatever you would have done on Monday will be waiting for you on Tuesday.
B. Wiley Stephens is a retired United Methodist Minister and author who now resides in Covington.