The classic vintage postcard above this essay shows the first Labor Day Parade held in New York City on September 5, 1882.  Although the organizers had been working towards a "monstrous" parade, 10,000 workers showed up, a gigantic number of people that did surprise everyone involved. determined to be recognized as a political force to enact the eight-hour day.

I try to imagine what that day must have been like for these 10,000 ordinary people. Many workers  would have to forfeit a day's pay to march from New York's City Hall to Union Square.  Participants in this first Labor Day celebration would be risking their jobs: some employers were known to immediately terminate anyone who would participate in such a radical demonstration. 

Building on this first success in New York City, Labor Day Celebrations were held throughout the country but had to wait fourteen years, until 1896, before President Grover Cleveland made the first Monday in September a federal holiday. 

I also try to imagine if the most trending story could be, at least for a couple of hours, how Labor Day suffers significant estrangement from its great meaning and history; and, to take a read to realize the enormity of this holiday.  

Just consider the successes of the American Labor movement: the eight-hour day, the creation of the weekend, health and safety protections, child labor laws, fighting for pay equity and, the creation of the middle-class. The history of American Labor is the story of ordinary people coming together to achieve extraordinary and monumental gains. 

Today Labor Day has become synonymous with visions of end of summer and end of summer sales and the beginning of school, and barbecues to support these traditions instead of the traditional Labor Day parade. 

People are tired just from earning a living and raising a family.  The conversation rarely drifts towards the sacrifices made by the generations going before us so we that we are now capable of enjoying this holiday, along with other federal paid holidays and all of labor's gains.  

If the conversation ever does drift towards unions and politics, consider some points given by conservative New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof from an article written February 15, 2015.

"As unions wane in American life, it's also increasingly clear that they were doing a lot of good in sustaining middle-class life - especially in the private sector where unions are now dwindling. Many studies suggest that about one-fifth of the increase in economic inequality in America among men in recent decades is the result of the decline in unions. It may be more: A study in the American Sociological Review, using the broadest methodology, estimates that the decline of unions may account for one-third of the rise of inequality among men."

Kristof continues to press the case for unions for the benefits it brings to industry: a unionize workforce brings improved morale, reduces turnover and provides a process to suggest productivity improvements.

The worst abuses of wage theft and health and safety violations towards our workforce has come from the corporate suite.  It has become all too evident from actions taken by  corporate heads of industry, that a unionized workforce provides the needed checks and balances against the unparalleled greed that has determined the direction of our economy.

Labor Day was designed as a festive day to enjoy ourselves.  And still, what was true then, generations before us, remains true today: the labor movement has stood as the most prominent and effective voice for economic justice.

Published by Nancy Snyder