Labor Day 2011 - How's It Going For You?
Normally a time for parades, picnics and speeches by community leaders, Labor Day 2011 celebrations or lack thereof, may be showing how society now regards, rewards and recognizes workers, from agriculture to technology.
In decades past, parades were a common occurrence on city and town streets on the first Monday of September, but it's a rare town now that sees flags, marching bands and floats on Main Street.
Linda Stinson, the U.S. Department of Labor's historian gives some background on the history of the day:
The Labor Day holiday is interesting because it evolved over a period of years. In 19th century America, there was already a tradition of having parades, picnics and various other celebrations in support of labor issues, such as shorter hours or to rally strikers. But most historians emphasize one specific event in the development of today’s modern Labor Day. That pivotal event was the parade of unions and a massive picnic that took place in New York City on Sept. 5, 1882.
At that time, the labor movement was growing stronger. Many of the unions in New York prospered by joining together into one Central Labor Union made up of members from many local unions. On May 14, 1882, a proposal was made at the Central Labor Union meeting that all workers should join together for a “monster labor festival” in early September. A committee of five people was appointed to find a park for the celebration. They chose Wendel’s Elm Park at 92nd Street and 9th Avenue, the largest park in New York City at that time; the date was set for Tuesday, September 5. By June, they had sold 20,000 tickets with the proceeds going to each local union selling them. In August, the Central Labor Union passed a resolution “that the 5th of September be proclaimed a general holiday for the workingmen in this city.”
At first they were afraid that the celebration was going to be a failure. Many of the workers in the parade had to lose a day’s pay in order to participate. When the parade began only a handful of workers were in it, while hundreds of people stood on the sidewalk jeering at them. But then slowly they came – 200 workers and a band from the Jewelers’ Union showed up and joined the parade. Then came a group of bricklayers with another band. By the time they reached the park, it was estimated that there were 10,000 marchers in the parade in support of workers.
The park was decorated with flags of many nations. Everyone picnicked, drank beer and listened to speeches from the union leadership. In the evening, even more people came to the park to watch fireworks and dance. The newspapers of the day declared it a huge success and “a day of the people.”
After that major event in New York City, other localities began to pick up the idea for a fall festival of parades and picnics celebrating workers.That's all changed now. While it's still a Federal Holiday with nearly everyone taking the day off, at least government workers and normal office staffs, there's still the big box retail stores open, and grocery and convenience stores with cash registers ringing all day.
At least the Department of Labor tries to give on it's website a sense of celebration of the American worker. Hundreds of web pages filled with information for unemployed, business, wages, health, and regulations for wage earners.
Check out it's page on Unemployment: http://www.dol.gov/dol/audience/aud-unemployed.htm
Maybe workers will have something to celebrate in coming years. We hope so, and sooner than later.
Video: U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis wishes workers and safe and happy Labor Day 2011