Teaching Tuesdays: Labor Day, not that many of us care much

So approaches Labor Day, one of the lesser holidays.

Oh, come on. Even if you’re a diehard shop steward, Labor Day is no Christmas.

For the three Americans who have no clue why this holiday exists …

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. [The History of Labor Day, U.S. Department of Labor]

Catch that? “A creation of the labor movement.” Created by a special interest group, like so many other American holidays, yet strangely unsullied by the greeting card/flowers/candy machine.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t used to hawk ANYTHING, of course. As the unofficial end of summer, it is attached to promotions for beer, hot dogs and furniture … because, well, every holiday is an excuse to mark down furniture. Which is just as well, because no rational person would pay what many furniture stores charge on non-sale days.

That “end of summer” perspective is the most popular one, according to at least one 2012 survey of 1,000 adults:

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of American Adults shows that 35% celebrate Labor Day as a holiday honoring the contribution of workers in society. Fifty-two percent celebrate the federal holiday as the unofficial end of summer. Thirteen percent are undecided. [Rasmussen Reports]

Personal note: I think in the survey above, “undecided” roughly translates to “I don’t give a shit.”

Anyway, of all the celebrants of Labor Day, you’d think top of the list would be the U.S. Labor Party, right? Never heard of them? Some of their accomplishments:

From 1996 through 2007, hundreds of union affiliates – including six national unions – dozens of chapters and local organizing committees, and thousands of individual members joined the Labor Party. We launched national campaigns around the right to a job, just health care, free higher education, and the right of all workers to organize and bargain. [about page, Labor Party]

You might have noticed the past tense. The article Labor Party Time? Not Yet outlines reasons for the decline and a look toward the future that is both stubborn (“There is no alternative”) and realistic (“… this is not the time to dust off the Labor Party”).

And what of May Day, that Communist holiday devoted to labor? Turns out it’s actually an American invention:

Today we see tens of thousands of activists embracing the ideals of the Haymarket Martyrs and those who established May Day as an International Workers’ Day. Ironically, May Day is an official holiday in 66 countries and unofficially celebrated in many more, but rarely is it recognized in this country where it began. [The Brief Origins of May Day, Industrial Workers of the World]

Why do we turn our backs on this holiday, which had its roots in reasonable measures such as the establishment of an 8-hour work day? Just a guess, but I’m betting it’s because those roots also include socialism, and that’s the real S word in our country today, isn’t it?

Myself, I am grateful that I have not been asked to write a newspaper story about someone who has to work on Labor Day. Just watch, the vast majority of U.S. news outlets will have some such thing, delivered by people who themselves work the holiday.

Am I off the mark? If Labor Day has some particular meaning for you, please feel free to share it below.

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