On the first Monday of September every year, America pauses to honor its workers and the contributions they make to our nation’s strength and prosperity. 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 century.
As a holiday, the Labor Day celebration began in the 1880s in New York City with an effort by labor unions to demonstrate the numbers, strength and spirit of workingmen and women. They organized parades and rallies, and used the demonstrations to press for new laws to benefit workers, such as standardizing the eight-hour workday. The movement spread to other cities, and in 1894 Congress made it a national holiday honoring all American workers.
The association with trade and labor unions has declined over the years. Today, for most people the holiday represents the last long weekend of summer, a time to relax and spend time with family and friends. 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.
Over time, work in the U.S. itself has changed. More Americans now are occupied in offices and services than who 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.