Celebrating hard work

“The basic bargain of America is that no matter who you are, where you come from or what you look like, if you work hard and play by the rules, you can make it.”

— Labor Secretary Tom Perez

As many of us head into a three-day weekend, we may be thinking ahead to our plans to travel with family or host a barbecue or enjoy a final day at the pool this summer. Our focus at work may not be as sharp as usual as we look forward to this annual end-of-summer respite.

But Labor Day is more than a day off work; it is a time to acknowledge those of us in the workforce every day, working to provide for our families, working for the pride that comes from doing a good job, working to be valuable employees to our employers. And in many cases, doing this yeomans’ work without applause or fanfare. Day in, day out. An honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the holiday is “dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country.”

The first Labor Day was celebrated Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City, with a parade of 10,000 workers marching from City Hall and then around Union Square. Afterward there were picnics and speeches. The affair was organized by the Central Labor Union, was started some 20 years before the city itself was fully established. The newspapers of the day declared it a huge success and “a day of the people,” according to the Labor Department website. It came after years of a movement by workers who were tired of long hours, dangerous working conditions and child labor. By 1894, more than 25 states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers, and Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories. The measure was signed by President Grover Cleveland.

Having a national holiday to celebrate hard work is distinctly American. Let us be glad that our national unemployment rate is lower than it was at the beginning of the year, lower than it was last year, lower than it’s been since 2008. Let us acknowledge the societal shift over the past 100 years that now prohibits child labor.

Let us celebrate the freedom we have to work in occupations of our choosing.