Opinion: Alternative ideas of Labor Day


Our summer months are nicely bookended by Memorial Day at the beginning of May and Labor Day wrapping it up with the arrival of September. The solar system would tilt the days a little later on each end, but we manage to get in our sunny days in the Northern Hemisphere, more or less, in this window.

Tradition would dictate that natty dressers only wear their whites in this period. The more relaxed among us might find the weekends the perfect time to bust out the open flames and host epic family barbeques. For many scores of others, these demarcations on the calendar signify the opening and closing of their cottage on the lake or camp in the woods.  The balmy, long days bring us out into nature. It is good. We spend too much time indoors. Still, there are an increasingly precious few who use the days to memorialize those who have valiantly served our nation or recognize the labor contributions of our predecessors.

By 1894, President Grover Cleaveland signed a law making the first Monday in September a federal holiday to recognize the work of unions and their organizers. Private companies were exempted from the edict for decades, and some unions urged for local strikes where it was not voluntarily recognized. Interestingly, the U.S. Department of Labor reports that the number of people not working today because of a labor dispute is at its highest level since 2003. Hollywood, baristas and auto workers are pushing for improvements to their positions. Picket lines, parades and protests may return as a central feature as one would-be founder of the 1880’s idea, Central Labor Union Secretary P.J. McGuire, might hope. Rampant inflation, pandemic emergencies and changing culture may cause it to signify more than just the end to summer.