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August 31, 2010 > Revisit the roots of Labor Day

Revisit the roots of Labor Day

By Fina Mora

AP Photo

John Henry, the legendary "steel drivin" folk hero of the late 1800s symbolized the value of hard labor and the vital role of human beings even during times of rapid technological change. Although the industrial revolution was on the horizon in the United States and labor requirements were changing, a good, hard worker, symbolized by John Henry was and continues to be a valuable asset to all economic endeavors. Unions, although subject to corruptive influences, continue to offer working people protection from exploitation.

John Henry said to his Captain,
"A man ain't nothin' but a man,
And before I'll let your steam drill beat me down,
Die with the hammer in my hand,
Die with the hammer in my hand."


On Monday, September 6, 2010, the nation will enjoy a federal holiday, allowing millions to take time off work. Labor Day is a chance to take advantage of a three-day weekend, enjoy a last minute vacation and wear summer white before Fall arrives. But as we spend the day roasting hot dogs on the barbeque or floating in the pool, it is also a time to contemplate the meaning of Labor Day. Is it just another holiday, another day off?

Officially, the first Labor Day in the United States was celebrated on September 5, 1882 in New York City. In the aftermath of the deaths of workers at the hands of US military and US Marshals during the 1894 Pullman Railroad Strike, President Grover Cleveland put reconciliation with Labor as a top political priority. Fearing further conflict, legislation made Labor Day a national holiday was rushed through Congress. There, it was unanimously signed into law a mere six days after the end of the strike.

Traditionally, Labor Day is celebrated by most Americans as the symbolic end of the summer, often regarded as a day of rest and parades. Celebrations include picnics, barbecues, fireworks displays, water sports, and public art events. Families with school-age children take it as the last chance to travel before the end of summer recess, while some teenagers and young adults view it as the last weekend for parties before returning to school.

In U.S. sports, Labor Day marks the beginning of the NFL and college football seasons. NCAA teams usually play their first games the week before Labor Day, with the NFL traditionally playing their first game the Thursday following Labor Day.

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