It began in 1882 when a labor activist and officer of the Central Labor Union of New York, Matthew McGuire, first proposed a holiday to recognize and honor the country’s blue collar workers for their contribution to the prosperity of the American economy. Blue collar labor was soon to become the strength behind the booming Industrial Revolution and the world’s most successful free market economy.
The holiday was a state-by-state observance until President Grover Cleveland signed legislation making it a national holiday in 1884. In the early part of the first 100 years of its existence, Labor Day became a day of rest, celebration and recognition of the contributions made by the American labor movement. Soon, generations of Americans were to become better known for how they labored as for who they were.
Today the holiday is observed more for its marking of the end of summer, closing of public swimming pools, starting of the new school year and the fashion end-point of wearing white; than it is for the contributions of the American worker. Punctuated by grand family and friends picnics, concerts and numerous outdoor celebratory activities, today’s typical Labor Day revelator would be well-challenged to cite the real purpose and significance of the holiday. The Labor Day parade, once a staple of nearly every industrial community throughout the country, is now re-enacted by a relatively few towns and burgs and the day’s once elevated purpose and importance is orated by a scant few industry leaders and politicians. The day initiated and set-aside to recognize the importance of work to the advancing of the American way of life is becoming a day off for fewer and fewer American workers.
The celebratory parades and public orations have morphed into Labor Day sales events and boisterous marketing content in a time more likely to see our society’s praise and appreciation focused more on the technological gadgets that have come to replace many millions of the traditional blue collar jobs in a new revolutionary world economy. In a time of celebration of all things high tech and innovating, our appreciation and recognition for the contributions of past and present labor generations are being over-shadowed and mostly misunderstood by the new Millennial’s generation.
Our grandfathers and great grandfathers once toiled in massive shops of machining and assembly, inventing and refining the mechanizations that resulted in the replacement of their very professions. Their efforts spawned a new era of opportunity and prosperity for countless workers who labored in new professions in an ever-innovating economy. But as technology advances at an ever-faster pace, new levels of laborers are seeing their professions disappear with few promises of more promising professions to follow. Is the fog of the newest technological revolution soon to dissipate to reveal a more positive outlook for the American laborer or is it more likely to lead to the celebration of a new holiday, Technology Day?
As we debate the question and ponder the future of labor and its place and impact on our society, let’s take this Labor Day to honor and celebrate all those who have lead us to enjoy the greatest and most generous of societies.