Will County Democratic Central Committee - News

The First Celebration of Labor

Published on Monday, September 1, 2014

The First Celebration of Labor

Most of us have trouble hearing the ''labor'' in Labor Day any longer -- the use of the word, that is, that distinguishes labor from management or worker from capitalist. The very radicalism of devoting a day to the honoring of labor's role in the creation of national wealth has been lost to the waning of both union power and a proud sense of class distinction. Laborers have been redefined as ''consumers,'' a category that somehow muddies everything.

But in its time the idea behind Labor Day was genuinely radical, as radical in its own way as the origin of Independence Day. As Ms. Litwicki observes, one of the critical steps in the evolution of Labor Day was balancing the class defiance, even the potential violence, of some forms of trade unionism with the patriotism and the conciliatory spirit of others. What resulted, when it became a legal holiday in 1894, was a version of Labor Day that managed to celebrate business and industry as well as the unions. It also made room at the front of the parade for politicians, who had been excluded from the original Labor Days. It became a holiday that honored sociability more than solidarity.

Now, of course, Labor Day is the starting bell for the steeplechase of autumn. The labor we hear in the name of the day is our own labor, whether we are union or not, worker or management. Many of the things that the members of the parade in 1882 were seeking have been gained by their successors.

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