By Katta Hules
Labor Day is right around the corner. More than just the end of summer or the last day to wear white, the holiday is a hard-earned celebration for and of American workers.
The holiday was started by the labor movement at the end of the 19th century, which saw the height of the industrial revolution. At this time, workers labored under unsafe conditions and days off were few and far between. According to the History Channel’s website, back then, “the average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks in order to eke out a basic living. Despite restrictions in some states, children as young as 5 or 6 toiled in mills, factories, and mines across the country, earning a fraction of their adult counterparts’ wages.”
It is unclear who originally proposed the holiday, though many credit Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, with first suggesting the idea. However, that idea is not uncontested. “Recent research seems to support the contention that Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York,” according to the US Department of Labor.
Whoever proposed it, the first Labor Day celebration took place in New York on Sept. 5, 1882.
The popularity of the “workingman’s holiday” spread throughout the country over the next 12 years. Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894 after the Pullman railroad workers went on strike, crippling the railway system. The federal government sent troops to Chicago, “unleashing a wave of riots that resulted in the deaths of more than a dozen workers,” according to the History Channel. In the wake of the violence, Congress made Labor Day a federal holiday to help repair relations with American workers.
Nowadays, for most, the holiday marks a day for relaxation and spending time with family and friends. The Arcadia City Council Members each have different views of the long weekend – and different plans for celebration.
For Council Member Sho Tay, the holiday is a way to “appreciate and respect to those people who contribute to our society … [both on a] large [and] small scale.” To him, it also evokes a childhood lesson. When he was in elementary school, his father, the school’s principal, caught him calling a janitor, who was Tay’s elder, by his title instead addressing him with proper respect.
His father corrected him, reminding him to always address people respectfully, no matter their position, because all jobs are important. “[T]itles are not as important as their contributions, regardless [of] how big or small,” Tay remembers his father saying, “Without them, the whole organization will crumble.”
The council member plans to celebrate the holiday weekend “with my good friends who have contributed to this great community.”
Council Member April Verlato sees the holiday from two fronts: as a mother and as an employer. “As a mom it’s a day to spend at home with my family and as an employer, it’s a day to show my appreciation to my staff for all the hard work that they do throughout the year by giving them a day off.” She plans to stay home with her family to enjoy their backyard and relax.
Council Member Roger Chandler has always seen Labor Day as a “working folks” holiday. He remembers celebrating it up in Canada where he was born and where they, like Australia and the US, observe the holiday on the first Monday in September. “It marks the end of summer … I kind of identify it with everyone’s back in school and we’re done with summer kind of except it doesn’t get cold quick enough here.”
Chandler is celebrating by going to a family barbeque. “My wife’s sister, one of her sons is having a barbeque, so we don’t have to do the work.”
To Mayor Tom Beck, Labor Day is important “because we should celebrate the people that provide the labor that make us the great country we are.” He plans to use the day off to catch up on household projects.
Mayor Pro-Tem Peter Amundson could not be reached for comment at the time of this publication.
Just as it was on its first celebration 134 years ago, Labor Day is Sept. 5 this year. The city council will have its next meeting after the holiday on Sept. 6 at 7 p.m.