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Getting into the Labor Day spirit

As I See It

Monday, September 1st, Labor Day. Just about everybody is celebrating a day off from work. I wonder how many of those celebrating today know the history behind the holiday?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Web site, “Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and 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 county.”

One of the pioneers of the American labor movement, Samuel L. Gompers, founder and longtime president of the American Federation of Labor, said, “Labor Day differs in every essential way from the other holidays of the year in any country. All other holidays are connected with conflicts and battles of man’s prowess over man, of strife and discord, greed and power, of glories achieved by one nation over another. Labor Day is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race or nation.”

The first Labor Day was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City. In 1884, the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.

Who is entitled to celebrate Labor Day? Everybody does, but should they? The idea originated in the skilled trades unions and was dedicated to men who made a living by the strength of their muscles and the sweat of their brow. With increasing automation fewer and fewer folks do hard labor for a living. Has the relevance of Labor Day passed? In some ways I think it has.

In the South, never a bastion of organized labor in the first place, we don’t have many Labor Day parades celebrating the accomplishments of working men and women. Mostly we just eat ice cream and enjoy a holiday with our families. For many, it’s the day set aside for the opening of hunting season with the traditional dove shoot on Labor Day weekend.

In my informal, non-scientific survey, I found that hardly anybody thinks about the historical significance of Labor Day. It’s just a holiday and nothing more. For the Mississippi Business Journal, it is one of those pesky Monday holidays that gets our schedule out of whack for the entire week. We would propose that all holidays occur on Fridays.

Is it bad that we don’t honor the efforts of working men and women on Labor Day? Probably. It’s sad to see our society move more and more away from valuing hard work and toward celebration of a life of leisure and obesity. As Mississippi, and the nation, continues to lose manufacturing jobs by the thousands and replaces those jobs with work in the lower paying service sector, the historical significance of Labor Day continues to drop.

Under the circumstances, is it wrong to celebrate Labor Day? Not really. Americans enjoy fewer holidays and vacation days than just about any other industrialized country. France, arguably a poor choice for comparison, shuts down for a month in the summer and everybody plays. If we banned Labor Day, we would just have to replace it with another holiday so we could eat ice cream and shoot doves. Plus, how would we know that summer had ended without Labor Day? We might still be wearing those white shoes in November.

Though I don’t earn a living through much physical exertion, I’ll be enjoying the holiday along with the rest of the country. Either visiting with family and friends or riding my four-wheeler through the woods or just kicking back with a good book. At some point I’ll realize that tomorrow is Tuesday and we only have two days to finalize next weeks’ paper. That will cause a momentary panic, but it will quickly pass and I’ll be back in the holiday spirit.

Thought for the Moment — Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave.

— statesman Henry Peter Brougham (1778-1868)

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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