A Rest from our Labor

doctor holding newborn baby Photo by BARBARA RIBEIRO on Pexels.com

This Monday I’m putting my “Acts of Kindness” post on vacation as I reflect on Labor Day.

Every year, for the past 50 years, I think about Labor Day as a rest from my labor. That’s because I gave birth to Wrestler #1 the day before Labor Day. And yes, that was, indeed 50 years ago. Six years later, just a few days before Labor Day, I pushed CoCo into the world. So, Labor Day became, quite literally, a day to remember my labor.

Buy, I wondered…

What is Labor Day really all about?

Is it about the end of summer? A return to school? Resting from the labors of a summer working in the fields? Why do we celebrate Labor Day? And why does most of the rest of the world celebrate May 1, as Labor Day.

Did Labor Day start in Chicago?

Well, kinda.

Chicago was a hub for labor disputes in the 1800s. On May 4, 1846, a rally was formed at Haymarket Square to protest the police killing and wounding of McCormick workers the day before. Toward the end of the rally, the police advanced to disperse the crowd. That’s when violence broke out, resulting in eight people killed and an untold number injured.

The American labor movement during this time also included a radical faction of socialistscommunists and anarchists who believed the capitalist system should be dismantled because it exploited workers. A number of these labor radicals were immigrants, many of them from Germany.


Some people believed the Haymarket Rioters set the labor movement back. The Haymarket Riots are what much of Europe uses to peg May 1 as their Labor Day.

It wasn’t until 1893, when another labor dispute in Chicago occurred that the United States decided Labor Day needed to be remembered.

…during a nationwide economic recession, George Pullman laid off hundreds of employees and cut wages for many of the remaining workers at his namesake railroad sleeping car company by some 30 percent. Meanwhile, he refused to lower rents or store prices in Pullman, Illinois, the company town south of Chicago where many of his employees lived. 


By May of 1894, workers went on strike. The strike that followed effectively shut down the transportation of goods in 27 states. By July, President Cleveland sent in troops to shut down the strike. Violence followed resulting in 30 deaths and many injuries. Ironically, just days before, Congress passed legislation making the first Monday of September a federal holiday, Labor Day.

Why a day off for Labor Day?

Laborers were already using a designated day in September to talk about specific workplace improvements. Like an eight-hour work day. Or a five-day work-week, or time off to eat a meal.

The Knights of Labor were exploring the idea that what we call the capitalist or industrial system was fundamentally exploitative. It introduced kind of inequities and inequalities, not just in wealth, but also in power. So they wanted a greater say in society for working people. Back when Labor Day began, there were a lot of voices that were fundamentally challenging this emerging system. Labor leaders at the time advocated for alternatives to the “capitalist wage system,” like collective ownership of corporations or socialism.

CNN (Joshua Freeman, a labor historian)

Wow! Who knew Labor Day was so progressive!

It’s more than a time to rest from my labor. It’s more than a time for picnics and sales. It’s a time to reflect on the laborers who came before me and forged the way. Now I can take it for granted that I can work safely, have leisure time, and have a healthy life.

Thank you! Your sacrifice has made my life filled with benefits I take for granted.