Labor Day Honors Every U.S. Worker
Among all the holidays we observe in the course of a year, Labor Day, first celebrated in New York City in 1882 and this year falling on September 5, is unique. “Labor Day...is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation,” Samuel Gompers, founder and longtime president of the American Federation of Labor, declared. A particularly American creation, the first nationwide official Labor Day was a compromise arrived at in 1893 by then President Grover Cleveland after a strike at the Pullman Company, maker of railroad sleeping cars, had been settled. Cleveland hoped the compromise would aid in his re-election. He lost, but the holiday became a permanent addition to the American calendar. And Gompers was right—“Labor Day differs in every essential way from the other holidays of the year in any country. All other holidays are in a more or less degree connected with conflicts and battles of man’s prowess over man, of strife and discord for greed and power, of glories achieved by one nation over another,” Gompers maintained. In contrast, Labor Day constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well being of this country.
Those contributions are immeasurable. We may be in some economic hard times right now, but the economy still functions and so does the infrastructure, the healthcare system, education, transportation of goods and people and all the other immeasurable elements of American life. And though Labor Day may be a holiday, not all workers will take the day off. Healthcare workers, subway motormen and conductors, bus drivers, movie theater ticket-takers, restaurant workers, police and firefighters, among many others, will remain on duty this coming Monday, ensuring that the rest of us can enjoy a safe and happy holiday to mark the end of summer.
Why we do what we call “work” goes beyond paying our bills, keeping a roof over our heads and some sort of food on the table. All workers—those visible and invisible without whom our daily lives would not function, who work at jobs they love and jobs they hate, who spent years learning their craft, trade or profession or who were hired off the street to take on tasks that required little more than literacy and basic arithmetic—are each essential to the smooth running of the intricate, manyparted entity that makes up our environment. All are equally deserving of respect. This coming Monday, we as a nation can—and should—pause, catch our collective breath and celebrate the millions of unsung heroes who are literally the backbone of the U.S. economy. On Labor Day 2011, let us acknowledge the American worker, creator and source of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom and leadership.