Where Did Labor Day Come From?

Labor Day is a strange one. Does anyone know where it comes from or why we celebrate it? Turns out it’s roots are in the 1880’s and it is truly just as it sounds: an homage to those in society who labor and work for the benefit for all. This is a holiday built out of the labor movement.

Union workers and local trade organizations have long been the advocates for the common man, but Labor Day was designated as the one day when the rest of the country should pause and say thank you to those who paved the streets, built the buildings, all of the things that make our society function on a physical plane. Today, it’s a holiday to honor all those who contribute their work to the economic and social advancement of our nation. If you have a job, run a business . . this one’s for you.

The Celebrations

So why then, do we now celebrate labor day with shopping and eating? Some would argue that these two past times are the most revered among the American public, but they are hardly in line with the intention of the day.

The labor movement, and truly, all political organizing, was born out of the premise, that the powers that be have the rest of us trapped in a constant cycle of working for their benefit

In the film Requiem for the American Dream, Noam Chomsky goes into great detail about the foundations of American society and politics. The wealthy created systems to ensure that the common man would never seize enough power or political clout to challenge the reigning social class. It’s why campaign contributions are scary, and why PACs are a big deal. If you haven’t seen this film, I think it’s still on Netflix. You’re welcome.

Silhouette of 3 men working on a roof to epict the hisotry of labor unions in america and ways to honor your work on Labor Day on mariedeveaux.com career coachThe labor movement, and truly, all political organizing was born out of the premise, that the powers that be have the rest of us trapped in a constant cycle of working for their benefit, without having the adequate representation in our government to provide for access or rights that benefit us (the common people).

Think about all the things that labor unions fight for: health care benefits, paid time off, reasonable work hours, retirement benefits. These are things, that every working person should be able to enjoy, not solely the wealthy or by extension, those who make the laws. Unions, and collective bargaining allow for the little guy to make enough noise to have their needs heard and met by those in political power. It is a critical function of our democratic republic, and it’s necessity dates back over a hundred years.

What’s Up BBQ?

image of meat turning meat on grill to explain the labor day holiday and wht it means to workers on mariedeveaux.com career coach site on career adviceSo why then, are we spending Labor Day BBQing and shopping? Are these two things not just other leisurely distractions from our more pressing goal as workers?: The ability to provide for our families and retire in dignity? Is not shopping the antithesis of that goal, as we further propagate the reign of capitalism and therefore power in a political system that responds to money and campaign contributions?

How does the working woman gain access, if she spends all of her free time distracted, instead of activating her voice? She doesn’t.

Woke But Not Working

Everyone likes to say they are woke these days. People like to think they are socially conscious and aware of the wrongs we commit against one another as part of a working society. But, after you are woke, do you not have a responsibility to get to work?

Labor Day is a commemoration of the rights the labor movement fought for, still fights for, on behalf of the working man. Here are 6 things you can do today to honor your labor, protect those rights, and keep pushing for your slice of the American Dream:

  1. Save your money.

    Finally take advantage of your retirement plan. Buckle down and max out those contributions. In a 401k or 403b, that’s not just the 3 or 4% match your company offers you. That’s the 18% allowance the IRS says you can stash in there, or 23% if you are 55 or over. After you change your contributions (even if by 1-2%. Budgets are real.), call up 5 colleagues and remind them to do the same. Not everyone has a retirement plan, or means to contribute to one. Don’t take that right for granted.

  2. Use that health plan like it’s going out of style.

    Schedule a doctor’s appointment or seven. Access to healthcare is an increasingly scarce commodity in today’s political climate. If your healthcare is still being subsidized by an employer, take advantage of that. Get your annual physical, see the specialist, go to the dentist, get a flu shot, check in with your therapist, and check into any holistic care options you may have. Some plans will cover the cost of acupuncture, chiropractic care, and other well being practitioners if you only seek them out.

  3. Get politically informed and active locally.

    Read up on the candidates for your next local election. In New York, that means catching up on who is challenging Mayor de Blasio for his seat, reading up on District Attorney candidates for Brooklyn and Manhattan, researching the Borough President candidates (for all 5 boroughs), and knowing who wants those 51 City Council seats that are up for grabs before the year is out. We are a Democractic Republic, so that means representation matters. Make sure you are informed when you step into the ballot booth. The primaries are September 12 ,with the general election close behind in November. Get ready.

Your local assembly person probably doesn’t have half the manpower she needs to help all the constituents who need it.

4. Visit and Volunteer . . .

at your local assembly person’s office. One thing I learned working for the local 43rd AD office back in the day, is that local government is a grassroots effort. This means that your local assembly person probably doesn’t have half the manpower she needs to help all the constituents who need it. Call up that office, or better yet, stop by and ask if there is anything you can do to help. You’d be surprised how much you can contribute.

5. Go to your Community Board meeting.

There is at least one community board meeting in your district once a month and you are always welcome to attend. Many of them have multiple meetings broken out by committee and they are all open to the public. This is where you can stay abreast of changes that are being proposed for your neighborhood. Schools, safety, commerce; this is where the watchdogs of the neighborhood make sure their concerns are heard. Never been to one? There’s no time like the present to start.


6. Use the power of the pen.

Write a letter or sign a petition in favor of supporting the American worker. That could be around the minimum wage, affordable housing, FMLA, equitable pay for women. On change.org, as of this morning, there are 219 petitions available related to Workers’ Rights. Read what others are fighting for. If you agree, put pen to paper (or fingers to keys as it were). Your voice makes a difference. Ever heard of fighting words? They are real.

Image of a woman's hand signing a petition in reference to political action on labor day to honor your work in career advice column by marie deveaux career coach

Just because you do one thing, doesn’t mean it’s the only thing you should do. Most of us go to work 5 days a week, week in and week out. We start with a case of the Mondays, work our way to Hump Day, and then Thank God It’s Friday. We don’t give it so much as a second thought.

This Labor Day, as you take a day off, think about those rights you have as a worker. And then ones that you, or others, don’t have. Your work matters. Their work matters. What are you going to do to make sure our republic truly honors and remembers that?

Take a moment to reflect. You’ve earned that. But don’t forget, there’s always more work to do.

These are only a few ways to take action on this Labor Day. What will you do this holiday?

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