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Happy Labor Day!
More than just a long weekend
What is Labor Day?
Individual states and labor activists celebrated Labor Day as early as 1882. Peter McGuire, the general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners suggested a day for a “general holiday for the laboring class” to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold (U.S. Dept. of Labor).” The same idea was being floated by an Alderman from New Jersey named Matthew Maguire. At any rate, whether Maguire or McGuire, the first Labor Day Parade was held on September 5, 1882 in New York City.
On June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed a law making the first Monday in September of each year a national holiday. In the legislation, it was said that a street parade ought to exhibit “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community, and that a festival of leisure and frivolity should follow for workers and their families (ibid.).
Since its inception, Labor Day was meant to emphasize the civic and economic significance of the holiday. In 1909, the Sunday before was called Labor Sunday by the American Federation of Labor and was dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.
The Dignity of Work
In the midst of the Industrial Revolution in America, the working conditions in most mills, factories, mines, and other places of employment were abysmal. There were no child labor laws. Men, women, and children would work as long as 16 hour work days, sometimes with little to no real breaks. The pay was low. The conditions were dangerous, and sometimes deadly. Being a worker in America in the latter half of the 19th Century was difficult indeed.
Sometimes men would have to “retire” in their mid-thirties because they were no longer able to work, due to the long hours and harsh conditions. In 1869, the Knights of Labor were organized, the American Federation of Labor began in 1881, and organized labor blossomed in the first two decades of the 20th Century. These organizations and trade unions, combined with strikes and some socialist principles, led to shorter work days, better working conditions, better pay, and a more dignified approach to the worker and his work by employers.
In 1890, the Sherman Antitrust Act worked to increase free competition and stop the formation of trusts and monopolies. This particular legislation was not a magic bullet. There were some necessary tweaks presented over the ensuing decades, but the Sherman Antitrust legislation did lead to at least seventeen Supreme Court cases being decided from 1893 to 2001.
Learn More This Labor Day Weekend
Since the papacy of Pope Leo XIII in the late 1800’s, the Catholic pontiffs have remarked with great frequency on economic, political, and social matters pertaining directly the industrial and post-industrial world in which we live. On this Labor Day weekend, I’d like to leave you with a few sources to dive deeper into this topic. Enjoy these resources from our previous posts. And have a tremendous Labor Day, enjoying recreation and amusement with your loved ones!
THE DIGNITY OF WORK, EXPLAINED BY POPE LEO XIII:
CHURCH TEACHING ON SOCIALISM AND GLOBALISM:
OVERVIEW OF CATHOLIC SOCIAL TEACHING:
THE PRINCIPLES OF SOLIDARITY AND SUBSIDIARITY:
DEUS CARITAS EST by POPE BENEDICT XVI, PART 2 (JUSTICE AND CHARITY):