Throughout Massachusetts this Labor Day weekend, family and friends will celebrate the extended holiday weekend together. From magnificent fireworks over Boston Harbor to art festivals and sporting events, the day marks the end of summer and the start of a new season for many of us.
However, it is also a time to give thanks to you, the American worker. Labor Day reflects your willingness to dig in and toil to improve our country through effort, ingenuity, and hard work. It is on this day we pay tribute to the individuals who raised the nation’s standard of living and contributed to the greatest economy ever established.
President Grover Cleveland signed Labor Day into law on June 28, 1894, officially establishing it as a national holiday. But the president’s signature only served to formalize the drive for change that began decades earlier.
The history of Labor Day
The first unofficial Labor Day occurred in New York City on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, when approximately 20,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Station in support of working class Americans. The impromptu parade of skilled tradespeople sparked interest in a “workingman’s holiday” that radiated across the nation.
State legislation quickly echoed the people’s sentiments. On February 21, 1887, Oregon became the first state to authorize Labor Day, followed by Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York. By 1894, 31 states had adopted the holiday prior to its enactment by the federal government.
A national holiday rooted in unrest
America in the early and mid-19th century was a time of great change and upheaval. Industrial advancements were displacing agriculture, and an influx of immigration brought cheap and plentiful labor. The combination of unregulated industrial growth and surging immigration led to extraordinarily difficult working conditions for the average laborer.
According to History.com, at the height of the Industrial Revolution “the average American worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week, to eke out a basic living.” Children as young as 5 or 6 labored alongside adults for a fraction of the pay.
Working conditions were dangerous, unsanitary, and ruthless, as mines, factories, railroads, and mills pressed on in a relentless pursuit of progress.
By the mid-1800s, labor unions had begun to organize strikes and rallies protesting poor conditions, and compelling employers to renegotiate hours and pay.
Through the strident voice of many — some of whom died during the Haymaker Riot on May 1, 1886 — working conditions and the standard of living for all Americans began to rise.
It would take another 44 years, though, for true change to be sewn into the fabric of American life. The 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act set a minimum wage, mandated a shorter workweek, and limited child labor — all benefits we now take for granted.
Enjoy your Labor Day weekend
So while firing up the barbeque this holiday weekend, take a moment to reflect on our country’s impressive history and give thanks to the men and women who fought to create this day for you – the American worker. Cheers! And have a great Labor Day!
The Hundred Club — Serving the Community
At The Hundred Club of Mass., we care for those who care for us. When these everyday people-turned-heroes lose their lives in the line of duty, we are here for their families. We have helped beneficiary families since 1959. Our assistance encompasses college scholarships, financial and legal support, counseling, and enrichment programs. Help us help those who dedicate their lives to serving and protecting our communities. When a police officer or firefighter dies, in many cases, their paycheck and insurance stop before their death benefits begin, which is where the Hundred Club steps in to help. Your generosity provides immediate support to the families of these everyday heroes — funds they can rely upon to pay rent, groceries, and other bills. Help us continue the tradition of caring for those who care for us. Donate to the Survivor Benefits Fund: https://100clubmass.org/donate/