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Every year on the first Monday of September, America pauses to honor the contributions made by its workers to their nation’s prosperity and strength. The notion that work is valued and even noble dates to the ancients.
"Seest thou a man diligent in his labor?" the Book of Proverbs asks. "He shall stand before kings." In the United States, the belief goes back well over a hundred years.
As a holiday, the Labor Day celebration began in New York City in the early 1880s with an effort by labor unions there to demonstrate the numbers, strength and spirit of the city's workingmen and women. They organized parades and rallies, and used the demonstrations to press for new laws to benefit workers, such as standardizing the 8-hour workday. The movement spread to other cities, and in 1894 the U.S. Congress made it a national holiday honoring all American workers.
The association with trade and labor unions has declined over the years. Today, the holiday for most people represents the last long weekend of summer, a time to relax and celebrate with friends and family. There are still parades and rallies, particularly in election years, and also sporting events and picnics. For many, Labor Day means a "no labor" day before the change of seasons and start of a new school year.
Work in the U.S. itself has changed over time. More Americans are now occupied in offices and services than toil on the factory floor. The connection between the holiday and the nation's workers remains real, though, as recognition of the source of so much of America's economic and social achievements.