The Real Meaning of Labor Day

Okay, I am going to cut into those barbecues and last-minute tanning opportunities, to remind everyone what today is.

Today is Labor Day. It’s a day off for most of us. It’s the unofficial last day of summer, even though the real coming of fall is more than 2 weeks away. If you have a summer share in the Hamptons, Fire Island, or the Jersey Shore, it’s time to say good-bye to the housemates and haul you stuff home. If you have a cabana at a beach club, it’s time to clean out. It’s time to put the whites away; it is still against the unwritten rules of fashion to wear white after today, or anything linen. And although there may even be a heat-wave in mid-September, you have to switch to the fall suits for work. If you are a student or teacher in NYC, the party’s over. The lines at the teacher store. Staples, CVS, Duane Reade are going to be around the block.

How many of you know that Labor Day was born out of the Labor Movement. The first official Labor Day celebration was Tuesday, September 5, 1892, and became a national holiday in 1894. I am proud to say that this tradition began in our city. But, in walking around my neighborhood today, I saw a lot of people working. And, aside from the bank and post office, retail businesses were all open for business and enjoying enormous response to the usual Labor Day sales.

So, if you’re reading this, take a moment to think of the worker who doesn’t have a day off today. Or, better yet, look at some bridge or building or tunnel that was built 100 or 80 or even 10 years ago, and think of the worker who put it there, who could have even been you grandparent or other ancestor. And, most importantly, remember the reason for the formation of the Labor Movement. Read about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which happened where the NYU campus is today. Read “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair. If you don’t become a vegan after reading it, at least you will gain an appreciation of those before us who formed labor unions to fight for workers’ rights. Whether you love or hate labor unions, they are a big part of New York City’s history and legacy, and Labor Day stands as an annual reminder of their struggles 100+ years ago

1 Comment so far

  1. Lady (unregistered) on September 3rd, 2007 @ 7:11 pm

    Hat’s off and respect to all workers. And thank you for the post about the unions and the human decency added after their inception. Still needed are better minimum wages (who can live alone, much less be the provider for a family at $12.5K gross a year?), health insurance for all workers and guaranteed paid vacation for full-time workers. We are so behind Europe on these things, while being the “richest nation in the world”. Who benefits from that wealth?

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