What Kind of Holiday Is this?

Frankly, Labor Day has never been a big holiday for me. In fact, I realized, I had no idea why we celebrate.

Putting my summer intern to work, I soon found out all I ever wanted to know about this Monday holiday. That has, with only two exceptions, always been a Monday holiday. First Monday in September since 1894.

I don't think my intern was fascinated by the project. Like most of us she was more interested in getting back to school, enjoying the last big weekend of official summer, and getting out of the library.

If I would have asked about the labor movement, industrial revolution, or working conditions in the 1800s, she might have shown more interest. I doubt it.

Like most of us, for her, Labor Day is just, well, just there. Quivering on our September calendars, but nothing compared to the Fourth of July, or Memorial Day, or even Mothers Day. The day chosen primarily because it's about halfway between Independence Day and Thanksgiving Day.

Labor Day was created by the labor movement to honor the achievements - social and economic - of American workers. Some think the general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and co-founder of the American Federation of Labor started it. Others claim that an officer of the International Association of Machinists had the idea.

The first demonstration, a parade with 10,000 participants, some say 30,000, and a picnic, was held on a Tuesday in 1882 in New York City. They repeated it in 1883. Also on a Tuesday. And, in 1884 the day was changed to Monday. A workingmen's holiday.

The states slowly began to get on board-first, Oregon, then Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. In 1894, Congress made it an official, legal holiday.

Massachusetts has always played a role in the labor movement. For example, the first strike for a 10-hour workday occurred in Boston in 1825. Some 800 women and 4,000 men marched during a shoemaker's strike in Lynn in 1860.

In 1912, Lawrence police beat women and children during a textile strike. Governor Calvin Coolidge called out the militia to control looting, rioting and violence when Boston police, protesting their unsuccessful attempts to organize as a union, refused to work in 1919.

There's a lot of labor history that we've all forgotten. The Tompkins Square Riot in New York, with men, women and children beaten indiscriminately. The hanging of ten "Molly Maguires" in Pennsylvania.

Haymarket Square and the execution of two anarchists. Railroad strikes, miner's strikes, silk workers strikes. The Triangle Shirtwaist fire, which killed 147.

People like "Mother Jones." Joe Hill. Walter Reuther. Victor Riesel. "Tough Tony" Boyle. Joseph Yablonski.

Labor Day. Created by the militancy of the labor movement. Shared by all of us today.

Maybe Samuel Gompers said it best. The longtime AFL president pointed out that "Labor Day differs in every essential way from the other holidays. All other holidays are in a more or less degree connected with conflicts and battles of man's prowess over man, of strife and discord for greed and power, of glories achieved by one nation over another. Labor Day is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race or nation."

Today, more than a hundred years after Labor Day became an official holiday, we have reason to remember why we celebrate and remember that we have the highest standard of living in the world. Thanks to the workers of America.

Let's celebrate!

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