This Week In History

Labor Day: Do we still need it?

Tristan Dzoch, BU History Club

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As college students we tend to take Labor Day as nothing more than a three-day weekend, allowing us to catch up with family or get ahead on schoolwork we may be swamped with. We tend to forget the origins of Labor Day as a celebration of the efforts of laborers to keep our society running.
The process of legalizing Labor Day as a holiday began in 1885. According to the US Department of Labor, Labor Day was made into official public holidays in individual states until 1894 when Congress passed an act that states Labor Day will be, “the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories”
Congress was not entirely motivated out of goodwill to establish Labor Day. According to an article written by History.com, on June 26 Eugene V. Debs “Called for a boycott of all Pullman railway cars, crippling traffic nationwide.”
The famous Pullman Riot resulted in death for some of the rioters. After this huge event, Congress decided to legalize Labor Day to repair relationships with the distraught and overworked laborers.
The first celebrations of the official Labor Day holiday took place in the forms of parades, meant to commemorate the work that laborers undertake. Eventually, as the Department of Labor puts it, “Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic significance of the holiday.” And after this, the Sunday before Labor Day was called Labor Sunday, focusing on “the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.”
However, despite being designed as a holiday to appreciate the work that laborers put in, there are still many who are required to work during Labor Day. An article by Fox Business lists ten jobs where the employees must still work on the first Monday of September. Among the jobs listed here are nurses, utility workers, and air traffic controllers, as none of their jobs can stop for a holiday.
Retail workers must also work on Labor Day, and often for longer hours due to the large sales that retailers offer during the holiday weekend, just like on Black Friday and other holidays.
As for myself, I have employment as a work-study student, which is paid federally. As such, I’m able to experience the three-day weekend, and it’s a nice little boost to start the semester off. I believe that, while it would be fairer to nurses and utility workers if this holiday was either for everyone or nobody, it would be a huge slap in the face to the unions and labor organizations that fought to have this holiday instated.
Instead, I think it is very important to show respect to those who aren’t able to take a day off of work during Labor Day.
While it is unfortunate that not all professions can receive the same time off as most others, it is important to recognize the holiday for the sake of the average worker so they are not forgotten in a world ruled by billionaires and large corporations.
It is especially unfortunate that some companies take advantage of their retail workers, forcing them to work longer hours during Labor Day. So be sure to show them kindness when it rolls around again next year!

 

Tristan is a junior History major and the president of the BU History Club.