Labor Day: An Explainer

Published on September 7, 2020

Modern Americans often think of Labor Day as the demarcation date between summer and fall. It is the day that signifies that it’s no longer appropriate to wear white. It is a long weekend usually celebrated with beach days or barbecues. However, like so many of our holidays, Labor Day has a much more serious purpose than simply being an excuse to have a hot dog and a beer on a Monday.

Labor Day takes place the first Monday in September every year. Americans all over the country celebrate with a day off work and all the fun that comes along with. However, in the midst of all that celebrating, the real meaning of the holiday can easily get lost in the shuffle.

What Labor Day is Supposed to Celebrate

The first Monday in September is dedicated to honoring the American Labor Movement. The labor movement came from the need to protect workers and fight for laborer’s rights. As the industrial revolution came and our modern form of capitalism emerged, it became increasingly necessary to have a powerful movement protecting the workers and laborers that were such a necessity for the proper functioning of the capitalist system. Life was not easy for workers at the beginning of the industrial revolution. People worked obscenely long hours in completely inhumane conditions. Out of the labor movement came unions, weekends off, and the idea of paid overtime. Without this movement and advocacy, our lives would look very different today.

There is some debate over the official origins of the holiday. The general consensus is that it began in the early 1880s as trade unionists started celebrating labor. The popularity caught on, and Oregon became the first state to make Labor Day an official holiday in 1887. In 1894, Labor Day officially became a federal holiday.

Over the course of the last century, the original meaning and significance of the holiday has become convoluted, confused, and largely forgotten. There is nothing wrong with a nice barbecue to celebrate the end of summer, but it is worth remembering why we have this day off, and all the other modern necessities that came from the hard work and activism of the labor movement.


Olivia Smith is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in San Francisco, she covers events, entertainment, fashion, and technology. She also serves as a Voices contributor at PopSugar.

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