Sunday, September 4, 2016

Labor Day: Why We Celebrate Once Again

Those hybrids sneak up on you...
Labor Day in Illinois 2016

Once agin, my Latin American friend Ernesto swung his new hybrid Escalade into the driveway the other morning and shook his head disapprovingly at my sign in the front year.

“What is this doing here in open display, my friend?  It makes you both look so…so...very low class.”

Ernesto was chastising my wife and me for our keeping a red, white, and blue sign that displayed “Proud Union Home” in front of the house.  Ernesto does not live in an area where such signs would be tolerated, nor would anyone ever see one.  Even the predominant Trump signs are tastefully placed in the lower right of picture windows.  There are codes to follow in Ernesto’s gated compounds, and there are the unspoken taboos.

A union sign is heresy.

You might remember Ernesto from several posts ago, when he disciplined me on the wrongness of contracts and the rightness of possible Illinois governors:

Collective what?  Don't be absurd...
Monday, on Labor Day, Ernesto will celebrate with his family and friends, but it is very likely he will NOT celebrate Labor Day.  Not in the traditional or even the authentic sense.  Like the Chicago Tribune, which commemorated Labor Day a couple of years ago with praiseful editorials about the benefits of work for the soul and spirit, most of Ernesto’s ilk will avoid the real history.  Shun the real significance.

According to the United States Department of Labor, “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” ( 

I think it’s always rewarding and refreshing for Ernesto to visit my “side” of town – not for Ernesto, but for myself.  I learn more…

The origins of Labor Day are obscured by the variety of concurrent movements at state levels to recognize the good work of all of us, and eventually those sentiments coalesced into a federal observation of a holiday.  Even as early as 1885, various municipal ordinances were being written to celebrate workers’ contributions.  Oregon was actually the first state to pass a law of such recognition in 1887; however, by 1894 nearly two dozen other states had adopted similar laws recognizing a day to honor workers.  By 1909, the Sunday before the Labor Day Monday was reserved nationally as Labor Sunday, dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement. 

Many argue about the actual individual responsible for the first Labor Day observance, but make no mistake about it: it was a union member or union official.  Some consider one Matthew McGuire the founder of the holiday across the river in New Jersey, while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. Matthew was a machinist and member of Local 244 (International Assoc. of Machinists).

Others ascribe the incentive for the holiday to a Peter McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and later co-founder of the American Federation of Labor.  I favor Peter only because of his supposed words defending such a holiday to honor all those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.” 

Ernesto couldn’t have said it better.  Actually, Ernesto would never have said it. 

The first proposals of the holiday outlined a basic form for the observance and celebration, and remnants of that festivity are still observed in many towns and villages.  Parades were considered the first order of business, followed by drinking and barbecues.  Children danced their last moments of summer freedom, and neighbors gathered to share a respite from the hard work of building a nation, day-by-day and brick-by-brick.  Of course, it was also a jamboree tailor-made for lengthy speeches by politicians seeking labor’s backing.  

Let's be proud of our good work and what we have wrought together, not just that we work.  

Have a wonderful celebration of Labor Day.

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