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Labor Day: It’s about more than end of summer

Today there will be picnics and gatherings of friends and family.

Today there will be food on the table, parties, parades and laughter.

Today is Labor Day, and there also will be much that will be taken for granted.

Labor Day has been a federal holiday for the past 125 years. For many people living in 2019, this holiday signifies the end of summer.

But that’s not really what it’s about. This federal holiday that celebrates the contributions of the American worker was born from a dark time in the history of labor.

In the late 1800s, the average American worked 12-hour days, seven days a week, not because they wanted to buy the latest gadget, the nicest shoes, the fastest car or the biggest house, but just to make enough money for a basic living. Even young children could be found working in mills and factories.

Working conditions often were not safe. The poor conditions, long hours and low pay saw the organization of labor strikes and rallies in the late 18th century, often turning violent and even deadly.

Then, on Sept. 5, 1882, 10,000 workers reportedly marched from New York City’s City Hall to Union Square, marking the nation’s first Labor Day parade.

Soon, states were passing legislation to recognize a “workingmen’s holiday” on the first Monday in September. But it would take a major event before Congress would formally make it a federal holiday.

That event began on May 11, 1894, when workers went on strike at the Pullman Palace Car Co. in Chicago. That was quickly followed by the American Railroad Union calling for a boycott of Pullman cars, which crippled railroad traffic nationwide.

The federal government sent troops to Chicago to break the strike, and more than a dozen workers were killed in a wave of riots.

Congress soon after passed an act to make Labor Day a legal holiday, and it was signed into law on June 28, 1894, by President Grover Cleveland.

So while you’re gathering around today’s picnic table, take a moment to consider how far we’ve come in 125 years and to be grateful for the sacrifices of those who came before us.

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