Labor Day: How it all began

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The first Monday of September we celebrate the holiday that recognizes the rights of the everyday worker.

Labor Day is the product of the labor movement and dedicated to the social and economic achievements of Americans. It stands as a tribute to the contributions workers made to earn the working rights that exist today.

In America, workers have the luxury of eight-hour workdays, minimum wages and sick days. It wasn’t always that way. In the early 1800s, Americans typically worked 12-hour days, seven days a week, in unsafe working conditions and children as young as 5 and 6 worked in factories to help provide for their families. Eventually, workers took action.

On Sept. 5, 1882, thousands of workers and their families came together and protested against working conditions, taking the same day off of unpaid leave. Together they marched to Wendel’s Elm Park in New York City to observe concerts, eat at picnics and relax while they listened to speeches by union leaders who supported their cause. More than 10,000 workers took over the park and emptied the factories in order to partake in the first Labor Day. This act was a wake-up call for company owners. They began to listen to their workers and made changes to accommodate their needs, such as better pay and set hours.

In the following years, more and more workers began to participate in Labor Day, even though it had yet to become a federal holiday. By the time it was declared a federal holiday, more than 50 percent of workers in the United States had been celebrating the occasion. President Grover Cleveland declared Labor Day a national holiday June 28, 1894. American workers brought about change in working conditions that brought the highest standard of living and greatest production the world had ever seen giving birth to the realization of the traditional ideals of economic and political democracy.

When you’re enjoying your long weekend and grilling your steaks in the backyard, take a moment to think about the people who protested to win the right for better working standards.