Written by David Hatz, Teacher, Coach, Statistician (ret.)
Hope everyone enjoyed a safe, happy, and restful Labor Day weekend. I thought would
be interesting and helpful to reflect on the history of this holiday that is (unfortunately) best
known and celebrated by many as the unofficial end of summer. Note: In the “old days,”
schools traditionally began their new year the day after Labor Day.
With apologies to those who know their U.S. history, Labor Day is a national holiday that
honors and recognizes the labor movement in America and the many countless contributions of
the country’s workforce to our economy.
The fight for this holiday began in the 1800s at the height of the Industrial Revolution.
Many Americans worked 12-hour days, seven days a week. Conditions were horrific, and wages
were paltry. Moreover, these laborers worked without sick days, paid vacation days and health
According to Voice of America, “As workers became more organized into labor unions,
they began protesting poor and unsafe working conditions and lobbying for more benefits from
employers. The move to recognize workers with a holiday began in state governments, which,
one by one, passed legislation to honor the common worker.”
Congress created the federal holiday on June 28, 1894, designating the first Monday in
September as Labor Day.”
Both Labor Day and International Workers’ Day (May Day) honor the common worker.
May Day is celebrated in most industrialized countries in the world. They selected that date
because of events in the United States.
In May 1886, a worker demonstration was held in Chicago's Haymarket Square to
protest the killing and wounding of several workers by the Chicago police during a
strike the day before at the McCormick Reaper Works. A bomb hurled at police killed
seven police officers and at least one civilian, and injured several others. The tragedy made
international headlines, and the day became an annual occasion for worker protests
throughout the world.
The United States decided not to celebrate on May 1 for good reason. Following the
Haymarket riots, a strong anti-union movement arose in the United States. Over the years, May
Day became more associated with the political far left, while Labor Day, held in September, was
recognized by a growing number of municipalities and states. When the United States began to
seriously consider creating a national holiday for workers, President Grover Cleveland
eschewed the May date because of its association with the Haymaker bombing, so instead
picked the alternative day in September.
All right, that’s your history lesson for the day. Now let us take a look at the word labor
from a rhetorical perspective. We all know that labor and work are synonymous, but checking
our Merriam-Webster dictionary we discover that “labor” has multiple definitions and uses.
Following is a partial list of how one may use labor as a noun, a verb, and an adjective.
Definition of labor (noun)
1a: expenditure of physical or mental effort especially when difficult or compulsory – was
sentenced to six months at hard labor
b (1): the services performed by workers for wages as distinguished from those rendered by
entrepreneurs for profits
(2): human activity that provides the goods or services in an economy – Industry
needs labor for production.
c: the physical activities (such as dilation of the cervix and contraction of the uterus) involved
in giving birth also : the period of such labor
2a: an economic group comprising those who do manual labor or work for wages – wants
the vote of labor in the elections
b: the organizations or officials representing groups of workers – negotiations
between labor and management
c(1): workers employed in an establishment
(2): workers available for employment – Immigrants provided a source of cheap labor.
3: usually Labour : the Labour party of the United Kingdom or of another part of the
Commonwealth of Nations
4: an act or process requiring labor : TASK The three-month project evolved into a year-
5: a product of labor – The flood destroyed the labor of years.
Definition of labor (Entry 2 of 3)
1: to exert one’s powers of body or mind especially with painful or strenuous effort: WORK
2: to move with great effort – the truck labored up the hill
3: to suffer from some disadvantage or distress – labor under a delusion
4: to be in the labor of giving birth
5: of a ship : to pitch or roll heavily
1: to treat or work out in often laborious detail – labor the obvious
2: DISTRESS, BURDEN
3: to cause to labor
Definition of labor (Entry 3 of 3)
1: of or relating to labor
2: capitalized: of, relating to, or constituting a political party held to represent the interests
of workers or made up largely of organized labor groups
And now you know everything you need to know (and probably more) about the word
labor and Labor Day.
As for me, I have labored long enough to provide you with another labor of love.
Further, it would be pointless for me to belabor this point as I am sure many of you are laboring
to finish the fruits of this particular labor.
Until next time.