Editorial: Labor Day's become a day off rather than a holiday

  • Labor Day provides a setting for all kinds of events, like Schaumburg's annual Septemberfest and parade, but it has also become a day without focus.

    Labor Day provides a setting for all kinds of events, like Schaumburg's annual Septemberfest and parade, but it has also become a day without focus. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted9/3/2016 2:00 PM

Labor Day was born, in large measure, as so many things seem to be in the United States, as a political favor granted to a special interest group.

The national holiday was approved unanimously by Congress in 1894 and signed into law by President Grover Cleveland at least in part to reach out to trade unions following the bitter and bloody Pullman Strike of that year.


Did the politicians of that time feel a genuine allegiance to unions? Many did, so we don't want to get too cynical here. And the holiday without question was a sincere tribute by a large number to the achievements the labor movement had made on behalf of the worker.

But there was a benefit for politicians who backed it -- support from unions that were growing in strength. And a benefit for the unions -- annual promotional branding in parades and celebrations across America.

The holiday's roots in the organized labor movement actually extended back a dozen years earlier when a more parochial version of it was celebrated in New York at the behest of the Central Labor Union.

Is it still viewed largely as a tribute to union workers and the benefits generated by the American labor movement? Well, it no doubt is if you live in a union household.

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But the holiday has evolved to have a generalized meaning that is considerably more vague.

Over the years, it has become less associated with unions and more associated simply with the generic idea of labor itself, the work the vast majority of us undertake day after day with or without a union label.

On Thanksgiving, we pause to give thanks. On Memorial Day, we reflect on those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. On Independence Day, we celebrate the nation.

But Labor Day?

It's become less a celebration or a tribute than it has become a day to escape labor -- the last glorious fling of summer, the final three-day weekend before the weather turns cool and the early evening grows dark and school takes a serious turn.

On dailyherald.com the other day, in one of those unscientific polls websites do, we asked readers about their holiday weekend plans.

The clear majority had no plans.

It's become a day of picnics and relaxation, and there's nothing wrong with that. But it's also become a day without focus, and that's more than a little sad. Work is so much a part of who we are and what we accomplish. We owe it to ourselves to set aside time to reflect upon that.

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