I'm warming up to Labor Day this year on my bicycle, crossing New York State. I'll be camping and hopefully enjoying the Erie Canal route that took so much money, sweat and commitment to build.
Labor Day in our time is the end of Summer, the last weekend to go out and swim, boat or do whatever.
Here are a few things to tuck away for a quiet moment when you can think about how this day came to be celebrated.
The first Labor Day in the United States was celebrated on September 5, 1882 in New York City. In the aftermath of the deaths of a number of workers at the hands of the US military and US Marshals during the 1894 Pullman Strike, President Grover Cleveland put reconciliation with Labor as a top political priority. Fearing further conflict, legislation making Labor Day a national holiday was rushed through Congress unanimously and signed into law a mere six days after the end of the strike. Cleveland was also concerned that aligning a US labor holiday with existing international May Day celebrations would stir up negative emotions linked to the Haymarket Affair. All 50 U.S. states have made Labor Day a state holiday.The form for the celebration of Labor Day was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday: A street parade to exhibit to the public "the strength and esprit corps of the trade and labor organizations," followed by a festival for the workers and their families. This became the pattern for Labor Day celebrations. Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civil 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.
American labor is not strong these days. In fact, this is one of the worst times for workers to get any respect or recognition in our country. Over the past 50 years, wealth-holders and management has undercut the credibility and legal rights of workers to bargain for anything.
However, in the 1950's through 1970's, when labor was strong, we had the most vibrant economy in our history. This is not a contradiction or a fluke, although it takes some thinking to see the reason clearly.
When the wealth holders gain from productive activities is balanced with the gains of workers the economy as a whole prospers. The reason is the less-well-off workers spend more of their share on buying more goods and the wealthy spend less. This drives the economy in a healthy way to more prosperity. The balance is the key and it is what has been lost.