Happy Labor Day

Stephen DeAngelis

September 1, 2008

Today America celebrates Labor Day. A day set aside to honor the hardworking people that fuel the U.S. economy. The holiday can be traced back to the beginnings of the industrial revolution, when labor and management were first squaring off. It has been celebrated on the first Monday in September in the United States since the 1880s, and marks the informal end of summer. According to Wikipedia, “the form for the celebration of Labor Day was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday—a street parade to exhibit to the public ‘the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations,’ followed by a festival for the workers and their families.”

Prior to the industrial revolution, the “work force” primarily consisted of men. Women’s work in the home was underappreciated because it didn’t bring in income. That fact is reflected in the writings of the Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862), a U.S. iconoclast, philosopher, author, and naturalist, who, twenty years before Labor Day began to be celebrated, wrote about “manly toil.” Thoreau believed it was Congress’ task to protect such labor because hard work was part of the pursuit of happiness discussed in the Declaration of Independence. Thoreau wrote:

“Such is the labor which the American Congress exists to protect,—honest, manly toil,—honest as the day is long,—that makes his bread taste sweet, and keeps society sweet,—which all men respect and have consecrated; one of the sacred band, doing the needful but irksome drudgery. [“Life Without Principle,” (1863), in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, vol. 4, p. 458, Houghton Mifflin (1906)].

Those who labor are still part of a sacred band that keeps the economy moving, hope alive, and self-esteem strong. For all those who toil, thanks — and happy Labor Day.