Tiffany Lang, News Correspondent
Jacksonville State University classes won’t meet Monday, Sept. 2 due to Labor Day. For students, it’s a free day to stay home, but Labor Day is an annual celebration intended to pay tribute to the contributions and achievements of the American workforce.
Dr. Gordon Harvey, Head of the History Department, wants students to know that Labor Day is “more than a three day weekend where we binge college football and burn slabs of meat over charcoal.”
He pointed out that Labor Day parades were started by organized labor as a way to show solidarity among the working class. Now, the national holiday celebrates the contributions of organized labor to our quality of life, said Harvey.
“So this Labor Day, as you cook out and watch football, thank unions for the 8 hour day, the weekend, the minimum wage, employer-based healthcare and worker safety standards – all things we take for granted today,” said Harvey.
Labor Day originated in the late 1800s, during one of American labor history’s darkest chapters and at the height of the Industrial Revolution.
During this time, the average American worked 12-hour days, seven days a week, to earn a basic living. Children as young as 5 years old were put to work in mills, factories and mines across the country and were paid a fraction of what their adult counterparts earned.
Workers of all ages were facing unsafe working conditions with insufficient access to fresh air, sanitary facilities and breaks.
As employment numbers increased in the manufacturing industry, labor unions began to grow more prominent and vocal. Strikes and rallies were organized to protest poor working conditions and to compel employers to renegotiate hours and pay.
One of these events gave rise to the longstanding tradition of Labor Day. On September 5, 1882, approximately 10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from city hall to Union Square in New York City. This event was recognized as the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history.
The idea of a “workingmen’s holiday,” celebrated on the first Monday in September, caught on in other industrial centers across the country, and many states passed legislation recognizing it.
Congress would not legalize the holiday until 12 years later, after a string of violent protests brought workers’ rights squarely into the public’s view.
Finally in 1894, Congress declared Labor Day a public holiday. By June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland officially signed it into law.
Amidst the approaching Labor Day holiday, AT&T workers across nine Southeastern states have gone on strike over unfair labor practices. This accusation comes after the Communications Workers of America union says that AT&T disrespected workers by sending labor relations experts to negotiate contracts that didn’t have any authority to make contract decisions.
CWA has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board against AT&T for not bargaining in good faith.
More than a century later, the true founder of Labor Day has yet to be identified.