It’s hard to believe it’s already September. This year has just flown by – especially in relation to the last two painfully slow years.
Monday we celebrate Labor Day. The federal holiday was declared in 1894, just 12 years after union bosses in New York organized the first annual Labor Day parade on Tuesday, September 5, 1882. The idea was proposed by a carpenter and the day was celebrated with picnics, speeches and a concert, in addition to a 10,000 worker march.
While the word labor is synonymous with work, the holiday was likely named for the labor unions who started it. At the time, 16 hour days and 7 day work weeks were common. Looking back, it may be hard to picture now.
Thirteen US states are on track to raise their minimum wage to $15 an hour or more in the next few years and a few cities have already surpassed that. But in the 1890s, most workers made $2 or less per DAY. And no one had even heard of overtime. Henry Ford made headlines in 1926 when, after already doubling his employees’ pay a few years earlier, he announced a shift to an 8-hour work day.
In 1938, as part of FDR’s New Deal, the Fair Labor Standards Act set a minimum wage ($0.25/hour!), mandated a shorter workweek, and created overtime pay for longer shifts. It also restricted child labor in most industries to a minimum age of 16. That law is still the backbone of our employee’s rights.
Don’t Wear White..?
Interestingly, around the same time the workers were desperately trying to better their financial situation another tradition started by the more well-to-do became tied to the developing holiday. The phrase, “don’t wear white after Labor Day,” is still part of our cultural consciousness, even though most folks don’t know the origins.
You see, if you worked in the factories, mines, or just about anywhere in the 1880s-90s, you tended to get very dirty. Only the very elite had washing machines and the staff to run them (electric washers appeared in 1908). So, generally, everyday laborers would wear dark clothing so the grime of the workplace or the walk home wouldn’t be as evident.
But people who didn’t work due to status or inheritance could wear white, knowing it wouldn’t get dirty. And among the elite, white clothing became synonymous with vacationing. So once Labor Day became the unofficial end of summer in America, the tradition was to pack away the light summery clothes as you prepared for school or just returning to the hustle and bustle of the city.
There’s another story that an elite group of people who probably vacationed “in the Hamptons,” came up with a clever, classist way to immediately identify the long-time haves from the nouveau riche. The existing high society ladies passed around the secret rule that you shouldn’t wear white after Labor Day, knowing that those with new wealth wouldn’t know the difference and commit a faux pas.
Regardless, it’s no longer a rule, just a tradition whose time has passed.
Other popular traditions are still alive and well. Many cities still have parades and celebrate solidarity amongst union members.
Even the non-union folks celebrate. Having the day off of work in most situations, family and friends (even sometimes work friends) get together for a picnic or a BBQ. If you’re on the coast, you might want to hit the beach or the public pool or waterpark.
Labor Day, as the unofficial end of summer, is often a great weekend to find deals on soon to be out of season clothes – not just white ones! – furniture or home décor. Labor Day is also typically the start of the football season. While the first official NFL game isn’t until September 8, there will be college or high school games you can check out.
Volunteering, or bringing a meal or treats to the workers who can’t have the day off – police, firefighters, EMT’s, hospital workers – is always appreciated.
Here at Good News Pest Solutions we will be closed on Monday, September 5th so our employees can enjoy Labor Day with their families. But we’ll be back bright and early Tuesday morning to handle all of your insect, rodent and pest control problems. If you need us, just give us a call!
Until then, enjoy your three day weekend and the advantages our American freedoms have brought to workers across the nation.
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