Labor Day — A celebration of the American worker
[ Editor’s Note: The following is a guest editorial originally published in the Topeka Capital- Journal in 2013. All rights reserved]
Most of us strive in our lives to find meaningful work — something that gives us pride of purpose and puts food on the table and a roof over our heads. A lucky few are able to turn pursuits about which they are passionate — perhaps crafting things with their hands or creating art or music — into their life’s work.
Older generations often devoted themselves to an employer and spent all of their days there until retirement. Today, for a variety of reasons, such longevity in a single career path is rare. Younger workers are emerging into a tough job market, and they are trying on various positions and career paths before finding a fit.
Today, we pause to honor American workers — including those who are on the clock today while others among us enjoy the holiday; those who toiled in the past, organizing and sacrificing to ensure protections that all workers now enjoy; and those who through no fault of their own remain without work as our economy continues its slow recovery from the recession.
Labor Day has come to mark the three-day weekend that heralds the end of summer, but its roots are important to remember and observe.
The first holiday was celebrated Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City and organized by the Central Labor Union. Approximately 10,000 workers marched from City Hall and around Union Square, then gathered with families for picnicking and speeches.
Some credit Peter McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, with first suggesting an observance honoring laborers, but others ascribe the holiday to machinist Matthew Maguire, who in 1882 was secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
After repeating the observance Sept. 5 of the following year, the Central Labor Union in 1884 selected the first Monday in September for the holiday and encouraged labor organizations elsewhere to celebrate a “workingmen’s holiday” that day.
The first state bill to enshrine a Labor Day holiday was proposed in New York, but Oregon was the first to pass such a law, on Feb. 21, 1887. By 1894, 23 more states had done the same. That year, Congress passed and President Grover Cleveland signed the bill establishing Labor Day as a federal holiday.
We honor all working men and women, who have built the country’s infrastructure, uplifted our economy, contributed to bettering our society and who do their jobs faithfully without daily thanks or praise. In these divisive times, it’s important to remember that as Americans we all need to work — or labor — together to build a better tomorrow for future generations.