Labor Day took hard work to become a holiday

Every holiday has a reason. And this is one holiday for sure that we all needed. In the late 1800s, at the very height of the Industrial Revolution in this country, the average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks in order to survive. And despite rules or laws to the contrary in some states, children as young as 5 or 6 worked in mills, factories and mines across the country, earning less than half of what the adults were paid. Working conditions were often unsafe, fresh air was scarce, and sanitary facilities were not always available.
As manufacturing increased, labor unions became more prominent and outspoken. They began organizing strikes and rallies to protest those poor conditions and force the employers to renegotiate the workers’ long hours and low pay. But workers were feeling underappreciated along with being underpaid.
At some point in 1882, Peter J. McGuire, a carpenter and labor union leader generally recognized as the person who came up with the idea for Labor Day, thought American workers should be honored with their own day. He proposed his idea to New York’s Central Labor Union early that year, and they thought the holiday was a good idea, too.
On September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City, holding the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history. That started the idea of a “workingmen’s holiday.” It caught on in other industrial centers across the country, and many states passed legislation recognizing it.
But Congress would not legalize the holiday until 12 years later, when an event in American labor history brought workers’ rights squarely into public view. On May 11, 1894, employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago went on strike to protest wage cuts and the firing of union representatives. There had been strikes before, and many of them turned violent, including the one on June 26, 1894, when the American Railroad Union, led by Eugene V. Debs, called for a boycott of all Pullman railway cars, crippling railroad traffic nationwide.
To break the Pullman strike, the federal government dispatched troops to Chicago, unleashing a wave of riots that resulted in the deaths of more than a dozen workers.
It was in the wake of this massive unrest that Congress passed an act making Labor Day a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories. On June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed it into law.
Labor Day is one of those always-clebrated-on-Monday holidays, ever since The Uniform Monday Holiday Act was signed into law June 28, 1968. Labor Day celebrations are something like a fall equivalent of those for the 4th of July, which marks the beginning of summer, whereas Labor Day marks the end.
The surprising tale of the “No White after Labor Day” Rule A little history about the “No white after Labor Day” rule: Back in the early 1900s, the summer season was bookended by Memorial Day and Labor Day. Wealthy society folk flocked from one cool place to another to escape the heat. City clothes were exchanged for lighter and whiter summer wear. When they returned to the city after Labor Day, they returned to their non-summery city clothes. This was an age when there was a dress code for practically every occasion; hence that change of wardrobe from summer resort clothes to city clothes morphed into the long-standing dictum “No white after Labor Day.”
Today, of course, you can wear white after Labor Day. If the temperatures are still very warm it makes perfect sense. Many even wear white in the middle of winter, calling their fashions “winter white,” as in white wools, jeans, and such. The bottom line: wear what’s appropriate.
We hope that when you think of Labor Day, you think of more than the end of summer, or barbecues, and whether or not you should wear that new white dress or those old white jeans.
America may be many things, and it is, and it will also always be a land of hard workers, whether immigrants, or the children and great great grandchildren of immigrants. And while this land we call America needs the white collar workers as much as anyone, the ones that shoveled and hammered and sweat from morning to night, even alongside their young children, often with barely enough to eat and nothing to show for their labors, need this day of recognition and thanks for all they’ve done and all they continue to do.
God bless them, every one.

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