Monday, September 2, 2013

A Long Weekend With Meaning

Today we celebrate Labor Day. Well, really, let’s be honest. No one is celebrating a holiday to honor the blue collar laborers. In fact, most of the people who have to work on this holiday are the ones that this day is supposed to honor.

This is why I just wanted to take a step back and share with you a little bit about the holiday. First, a little overview as to the purpose of Labor Day as written on the Department of Labor’s website:

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country… Through the years the nation gave increasing emphasis to Labor Day. The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed during 1885 and 1886.

From these, a movement developed to secure state legislation. The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21, 1887. During the year four more states — Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — created the Labor Day holiday by legislative enactment. By the end of the decade Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had followed suit. By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers, and on June 28 of that year, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.

Slowly the movement took hold and crossed the country until finally it was declared a national holiday. Don’t you love the irony from the very beginning when it took a bunch of guys in suits and sitting behind desks in order to pass a holiday that honors the people that, up until that point, were coerced to place their votes in favor of the party that would be most beneficial to their employer. Remember, the formation of this day was long before the sale of Carnegie Steel in 1901 and the dissolution of Standard Oil in 1911.

The means by which the day is celebrated has changed greatly over the years. While today it usually means one last trip to the beach, shopping for bargains at the mall, and generally just enjoying a long weekend away from work that was not the way the day was meant to be observed. Parades and speeches were the order of the day. And while I believe that to be an appropriate way to celebrate at the time, I think the laborers during the turn of the 20th century would join right along in the modern incarnation of their holiday.

Specifically, this is how the celebrations were supposed to be scheduled (again from the DOL website):

The form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday — a street parade to exhibit to the public "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations" of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families. This became the pattern for the celebrations of Labor Day. Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

Essentially we have a dichotomy between the meaning and means of celebration of this holiday in the modern world. Like many celebrations, this is just one of those things that changes over time. As the world changes so do the people and events in it. However, I would like to propose an idea to attempt to tie the two together, past with present.

It is very simple, take some time out of the day to remember members of your family, past and present, for whom this holiday was created. Appreciate the people that you meet during the day for whom this holiday was established. Find something that you can do yourself that you would normally hire someone to do and work with your hands (once you mess it up and make it worse, then you can call someone). It all comes down to appreciation so find some way to not just show your appreciation but mean it as well.