Labor Day: The first Monday of September and yet another holiday that has been hijacked by American nationalism and patriotic ideals.
Scrolling through my Facebook timeline on Monday irked me more than an average day of doing the same. It happened to be Labor Day and it seems that many of the individuals on my friend list took a break from grilling and consuming profuse amounts of beer to thank police officers and military service members because, well, it was Labor Day after all.
There I was, scratching my head, peering into the screen of my phone at a collage of cops and soldiers with a text overlay reading, “HAPPY LABOR DAY TO ALL OF THOSE WITHOUT THE DAY OFF…”
The premise of the message on this graphic is true – not all of us are able to miss a day of work and enjoy the extended weekend. It’s important that others recognize this reality.
In fact, many Americans don’t get this day off. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 53 percent of the lowest 25 percent of earners receive paid holidays. The same report indicates 83 percent of the highest 25 percent of earners receive paid holidays.
Quite frankly, the work of low wage laborers is so under-valued that they are not granted the break that Labor Day was intended to secure, even if these workers were able to afford a day off.
The graphics I ran into on Monday had me briefly questioning the significance behind the holiday. But, lo and behold, the day honoring workers specifically arose from decades of struggle by state union movements culiminating in the adoption of a federal holiday in 1894. It was fought for and earned by dedicated, militant workers’ rights activists that successfully advocated for things like child labor laws, overtime and workers’ compensation, sick leave, a minimum wage, workplace sexual harassment laws – and the list does not end there.
And the day symbolizes so much more than a nationally-recognized cookout or the beginning of a school year. It’s intention is expressly stated on the Department of Labor’s website.
“[Labor Day] constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”
This day is not another excuse to mindlessly thank veterans or current service members, but it is a day to thank the union members that advocated for military leave and providing veterans with employment services.
By using yet another nationally recognized holiday to thank these service members, we divert the recognition away from our nation’s unions and the low-wage sector of the workforce that does labor on Labor Day, despite the holiday’s intentions.