Labor Day – Then and Now


Labor Day came about because workers felt they were spending too many hours and days on the job.

In the 1830s, manufacturing workers were putting in 70-hour weeks on average. Sixty years later, in 1890, hours of work had dropped, although the average manufacturing worker still toiled in a factory 60 hours a week. These long working hours caused many union organizers to focus on winning a shorter eight-hour work day. They also focused on getting workers more days off, such as the Labor Day holiday, and reducing the work week to just six days. These early organizers clearly won since the most recent data show that the average person working in manufacturing is employed for a bit over 40 hours a week and most people work only five days a week.

Surprisingly, many politicians and business owners were actually in favor of giving workers more time off. That’s because workers who had no free time were not able to spend their wages on traveling, entertainment or dining out. As the economy expanded beyond farming and basic manufacturing in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it became important for businesses to find consumers interested in buying the products and services being produced in ever greater amounts. Shortening the work week was one way of turning the working class into the consuming class.

Today most people in the United States think of Labor Day as a noncontroversial holiday; there is no  drama. It is no longer about trade unionists marching down the street with banners and their tools of trade. Instead, it is a federal holiday with no associated rituals, considered as the unofficial end of summer in the United States. It gives workers a day of rest while celebrating their contribution to the American economy.

You can start a new ritual by turning off your phone, computer and other electronic devices connecting you to your daily grind. Then celebrate the day with some of the following activities: cook-offs, hot air balloons, art in the park, book festivals, church activities, 5K runs, live music, car shows, parades, football games or your own very unique activities. From:



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