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September 1, 2013

OUR VIEW: Honoring the American worker

Ahh, Labor Day.

It’s the unofficial end of summer. It’s the last hoorah for the ole grill. It’s a day off work to spend some much-needed downtime with family and friends.

Oh, wait, it’s also a day to remember American workers. That’s the part we tend to forget about heading into our annual three-day weekend in early September.

In most cities, Labor Day doesn’t provoke the same grandiose events it once did. But, on Sept. 5, 1882, the very first Labor Day was a grand occasion.

Held in New York City, there was a picnic, concert and speeches.

The real splash came from the 10,000 workers who marched in a parade from City Hall to Union Square.

The parade was held to shine a spotlight on the strength of the trade and labor organizations. In short time, the holiday was moved to the first Monday in September, where it has remained to this day. In 1894, Congress declared it a national holiday. As time marched on, the day became a time for prominent men and women to make speeches about the economic and civic relevance of the reason for the holiday.

And as the character of the American workforce changed, so did that of the Labor Day celebration. As life became better and safer for the American worker, on the backs of those who organized the first holiday, the day evolved into a celebration of summer.

Paid vacations. Sick days. An eight-hour workday. The weekend. Safer working environments. These are all part of the dream from, and in many ways a result of, that first Labor Day. But now that we take those things for granted, we tend to forget they’re precious commodities that need our attention, protection and observation.

So, this Labor Day, let’s remember those who didn’t make it home from work.

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