Labor Day reverence is lost, say historians

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We don't labor, not most of us anyway. It's a day off, and an odd one. It's the only national holiday where the thing we are celebrating is the thing we're getting paid not to do: work.

The result is scores of people who attach no meaning to the day beyond its place on the calendar — the first Monday of September. The unofficial end of summer, or at least of summer vacation.

That kind of historical amnesia is either a tribute to the widespread acceptance of the labor movement's past triumphs, or a reminder of its diminished clout in the nation's work force.

Either way, Labor Day isn't what it used to be.

“I think in some ways the fact that so many people will celebrate Monday and get the day off without realizing the struggle that went into it is sort of symbolic of that struggle,” said Joseph McCartin, a labor historian at Georgetown University. “It's kind of ironic.”

And kind of short-sighted, said Charles Chafe, executive director of Change to Win, a national umbrella organization of labor unions.

“Weekends off, eight-hour workdays, health insurance, pensions, paid holidays — all those things we take for granted were earned literally with the blood, sweat and tears of generations of Americans who sacrificed to make that happen,” Chafe said...

... People stood up on the first Labor Day, in 1882, to walk in a parade in New York City. About 10,000 marchers took an unpaid day to demonstrate against what was then the workplace norm: 12-hour days, seven days a week.

The idea of a “workingmen's holiday” spread, and by the end of the decade, eight states had passed laws recognizing it. In 1891, San Diego had its first Labor Day parade.

Three years later, Congress established a federal holiday.
Read entire article at SignOnSanDiego.com (Union Tribune)

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