Article written by Pastor Tim Benjamin featured in the Evening Leader on September 3, 2019
Why do we celebrate Labor Day? To most of us today, this holiday sort of marks the end of summer and the transition into the season of fall. This is because we look at our summer calendar through the lens of the school year. Even though schools now typically start long before Labor Day, this holiday is seen as time for school to start; therefore, most of us think of summer from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
However, noting the end of summer is not the true purpose of this holiday. Labor Day became a national holiday on June 28, 1894 when President Grover Cleveland signed it into law.
When the Civil War ended in 1865 and soldiers returned home after a horrendous war that led to freed slaves in the south, the United States began a silent transition. Up to this point in our history, the United States had been an agricultural society. After the Civil War, there were many men who were able to work but did not own land. This was a major contributing factor to the rise of manufacturing. Rather than work on your own land and provide for your family, the concept of having a job where someone paid you to work for them became the new norm.
In the early days of manufacturing, there were no rules and no laws protecting workers. Conditions were horrible; children were working in factories and mines in dangerous and unhealthy conditions, with long hours and substandard wages. Workers began to come together in unions to demand living wages and safer conditions. They held protests, marches and boycotts to make sure the interests of the working man were factored into the equation of how corporations functioned. Everyday Americans were making incredible contributions to the American way of life, helping these corporations function but the physical and emotional toll on these employees was very high.
After riots broke out with many people killed when the army intervened, laws were passed addressing conditions in the workplace. Age limits and minimum wages were set in order to protect workers and make sure they were getting paid enough to live. This began a movement to show appreciation to the American worker because in the 1890s, America was a manufacturing society. We were producing all kinds of products and experiencing advancements in technology and production so that working conditions could improve and productivity began to rise.
While today we are not sure who proposed the idea of the first Labor Day, the conversation continued and was unofficially celebrated until the holiday was officially recognized in 1894. Now the first Monday in September is set aside to honor the men and women who work hard for a living. It is by these folks working hard, raising their families, purchasing products and spending their hard-earned money that allows our economy to thrive. Manufacturing created the retail market because it is the work that takes place in manufacturing that enables the workers to have money to spend which today feeds into a wide range of industry from technology, entertainment and sporting events. If you have ever gone to a movie, driven a car or slept a single night in a structure of any kind, it is the hard-working women and men who are manufacturing those products who provided them for you.
So, my prayer for you is, that as you sat around a fire and had something cold to drink, you took just a moment to be thankful to many women and men whom you will never meet, who worked hard to provide that product you enjoy.