What's the deal with Labor Day?

Labor Day is one of those holidays to which people look forward. In many American’s minds, it signals the last hoorah of summer. It is a time many families go on their last weekend vacation until Thanksgiving, Christmas, or the next summer. This holiday is one that has a much richer history than just being one last fun-day at the end of summer. It grew directly out of a movement that dramatically changed this country forever—the unionized labor movement.

During the late nineteenth century—the Industrial Revolution—factories were springing up across the country and many Americans were enjoying regular full-time employment. It didn’t take long, however, before these factories began trying to increase their profit margins and the best way to do this was to pay their workers less money, make them work longer hours, or both. Not only was this the case, but many factories also employed children. The working conditions likewise began declining and hazardous work environments were beginning to take their tolls on workers. Many laborers lost limbs while others lost their lives.

It did not take too very long before the workers began to organize together to fight for better wages, regular work hours, safer working conditions, and the outlawing of child labor. Weekends, minimum wage, and child labor laws are in large part due to the labor unions that organized and marched for decades before much of the reform began to occur.

While many people today view unions as groups that bully employers into giving them more than they deserve, the first labor unions paved the way for what workers today enjoy when it comes to protections from employer abuses.

As I researched the history of this holiday, it became increasingly clear that the origins of this movement truly line-up with the Bible. The Scripture abhors taking advantage of laborers (Leviticus 19:13, Deuteronomy 24:14-15, Malachi 3:5, James 5:4). Along those same lines, Labor Day is a holiday to celebrate “the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” The Bible also upholds and commends a strong work ethic (Proverbs 12:11, 14:23; Ephesians 4:28; 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13). In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor states on their website that in 1909 the American Federation of Labor adopted a resolution that the Sunday before Labor Day be known as Labor Sunday—a day dedicated “to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.”

I personally had no idea about the rich history to Labor Day, but I know I will celebrate it in a different light from this point forward. Some other resources for this post include:

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