In 1894, when Congress first declared the first Monday in September as a holiday in honor of labor, the working world was quite different than today. Miners faced the daily danger of cave-ins and explosions, and serious accidents were common in the factories.
Just two years before, there had been a bloody clash between striking steelworkers and Pinkerton guards at Homestead in one of the most infamous episodes in American labor history.
Nowadays, most of us tend to view Labor Day as little more than the unofficial end of summer, the last holiday before the swimming pools close. Its original purpose – celebrating the dignity of the men who labored in a harsh, dangerous working environment – has been lost in the mists of history.
We still have workers doing unpleasant jobs, and their unions still occasionally clash with management over salaries, benefits and working conditions. But we all live in a much better world than 1894, and that’s indeed worth celebrating.