Entry 487: All Your Labor Day Questions Answered

Well, Labor Day weekend is upon us, and I’m sure you all have some important questions…

Q. Who was Labor and why do we have a holiday honoring him?
A. Labor is not a who, it’s a what. We celebrate Labor Day in honor of all our workers who produce our goods, and make things run, and pick up our garbage and so forth. In other words, it could also be called “99% Day.”  If all you do is move money from one place to another, you don’t qualify, and you don’t deserve the day off.

Q. What are the origins of Labor Day?
A. It began in Canada as a Labour Appreciation Festival. When it came to America, we dropped the “u” because we wanted to recognize all our workers, working together, to make things work. And there is no “u” in “team.”

Q. Why did we feel the need to honor people just for doing their jobs?
A. Because, at the time, “just doing your job” was very dangerous. This was in the 1880’s, and workers didn’t have perks like air conditioning or fire exits. Plus, they would work 18- hour days, six days a week, and the kids’ parents worked even longer hours. And all they got paid was, like, $2 a week, 33¢ after taxes, which employers deducted even though taxes didn’t exist yet. Many full-time workers couldn’t even afford a decent calling plan. (Continued after the photo)

Men who are either toiling in a glass factory or trying to play an enormous musical instrument.

Men who are either toiling in a glass factory or trying to play an enormous musical instrument.

Q. But then the unions came along, right?
A. Correct. That’s when workers started getting killed in droves. And those were the lucky ones; if you were merely maimed, losing an arm, say, you could not get medical attention because there was no Obamacare back then. You’d have to keep on toiling at your steam-driven sewing machine and endure the embarrassment of people calling you “Lefty.”  (Continued after photo)

This photo of women at their sewing machines was taken in 1932, long after the labor movement began. Notice the improvements in working conditions, such as windows and handsome "massage men."

This photo of women at their sewing machines was taken in 1932, long after the labor movement began. Notice the improvements in working conditions, such as windows and handsome “massage men.”

Q. Why did the unions cause so many workers to get killed or injured?
A. Because the unions would call strikes, causing the workers to stop working at their jobs and, instead, parade around the factory with signs called “pickets.” Some would then trip over each other (because they weren’t used to being in parades), and skin their knees, resulting in open sores which would form “scabs.” Another cause of death and injury was the fact that the government frequently called in the military or U.S. Marshals to shoot at the workers.

Q. Why would they do that?
A. Because, at the time, the government only did what big business wanted.

Q. It’s a good thing that has changed.
A. Amen, brother. (continued after photo)

Even children had to work long hours on the picket lines.

Even children had to work long hours on the picket lines.

Q. You said Labor Day began in the 1880’s…
A. Well, individual states began recognizing Labor Day then. It didn’t become a federal holiday until 1894 because–and this will come as a shock to you–back then it took Congress a long time to approve stuff.

Q. So, before Labor Day began in 1894, how did people know when summer was over?
A. Excellent question! You see, before labor unions, people didn’t need to know when steeplechase-human-roulette-wheel[1]summer was over, because summer was only one day, typically the second Sunday in August, when everyone took the subway to Coney Island to go on rides that were even more dangerous than going on strike. For instance, “The Human Roulette Wheel” (pictured) would just start spinning at a high rate of speed, sending people crashing into each other.  Really.

Q. How did they decide on September for Labor Day?
A. Interestingly, the first American Labor Day was in Oregon in 1887, and it was in February. You can imagine how cold people got spending the long weekend at the beach. September was suggested by a group called The Knights of Labor, who had organized the first labor parade in New York City, an event still remembered for it’s large and festive smoke stack balloons.  September seemed like a good idea anyway, because all the stores wanted an excuse to clear out their warm weather merchandise.  “Labor Day Sales” allowed them to stay open late and honor their workers by making them work more!

Q. Did they have back-to-school sales then, too?
A. No, idiot, because, as I mentioned earlier if you were paying attention, most kids were working 18-hour days six days a week and didn’t need binders. Back-to-school sales are a much more recent addition resulting from the middle class having more disposable income and the advent of My Little Pony backpacks.

Q. Is there a recommended way to celebrate Labor Day and honor all our hard-working Americans?
A. According to the original proposal, Labor Day was to consist of “A street parade to exhibit to the public ‘the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations,’ followed by a festival for the workers and their families.” Of course, this is difficult to do in our modern times, since most Americans have no idea what “esprit de corps” means. In any case, feel free to spend the day cursing at your town for closing the main road for the parade and then crash the festival of your choice.

Happy Labor Day, everyone. See you soon.

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