REFLECTIONS ON LABOR DAY

So we hope you had a wonderful Labor Day weekend in North Carolina. Ever thought about where it came from and more interestingly, why we celebrate it?

Labor Day as a holiday is a bit of a mystery around here. There’s no religious or patriotic origins to commemorate like most of our holidays.

For most folks, Labor Day is an extra day off from work to head to the beach, the mountains, a lake or any place in between and have fun. For some it’s a last fling for the family before the end of summer. For children it’s a signal that schoolwork starts in earnest for the fall semester. For others, it’s the beginning of fall and outdoor pursuits – dove hunters hit the fields, fishermen plan forays to the beach and fish-laden waves, and football fans settle in for pigskin fun.

But if you polled it, most wouldn’t have a clue where Labor Day came from. Some think it’s simply a signal that summer’s ending, that maybe it’s a reward for the summer’s hard work by farmers.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Labor Day is “a creation of the labor movement” and was birthed in the mid-1880s in manufacturing-heavy states where it was first celebrated at the municipal level, then advanced to state-level celebrations. By 1894, 31 states had adopted it as a legal state holiday, and in June of that year, it passed Congress as a federal holiday.

Credit for starting the push for the holiday is in dispute between Peter McGuire, a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor (a precursor of today’s AFL-CIO), and Matthew McGuire, a member of the International Association of Machinists.

There was debate about whether to hold a labor holiday for organized labor on May 1 or the first of September. Wikipedia states about the origins of Labor Day:

“Conservative Democratic President Grover Cleveland was one of those concerned that a labor holiday on May 1 would tend to become a commemoration of the Haymarket affair [of May 4, 1886] and would strengthen socialist and anarchist movements that backed the May 1 commemoration around the globe. In 1887, he publicly supported the September Labor Day holiday as a less inflammatory alternative, formally adopting the date as a United State federal holiday through a law that he signed in 1894.”

So that’s how you got a September Labor Day for fun and frolic. And, compliments of the “Haymarket Affair” mentioned there, how we got an 8-hour workday.

What’s ironic is that North Carolina is one of the most right-to-work states in the country – which means all human beings have the right to work or engage in an employment practice and should not be prevented from attempting to seek and maintain employment. A primary element of the right to work is that a worker should not be required to join a labor union.

In a state with such a rich, entrepreneurial legacy, where we constantly tout our booming free enterprise growth economy, and our #1 industry remains agriculture, celebrating a holiday for unions and the Labor thing seems kind of ridiculous.

So maybe we should agree to focus on the first Monday of September as just a good time for a holiday. We wonder why the name can’t be changed to something that actually means something we can actually celebrate. Something like Here Comes Football Day, Family Day or Goodbye Summer Day.