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Made in the USA: The Evolution of American Labor


By JEFF IHAZA

For most Americans, Labor Day is little more than the unofficial end of summer -- a nice break from the work week that recharges them for the days ahead. It wasn't always that easy though. During the nation's younger days, ideas like a minimum wage, an 8-hour work day and protections for working children were still being fought over. In fact, Labor Day as a holiday is the product of a series of efforts from labor unions across the country toward the end of the 19th century.

Nowadays, we celebrate Labor Day on the first Monday of September -- but the first Labor Day was actually celebrated on a Tuesday, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. In 1882, the Central Labor Union in New York City organized a celebration on September 5th. After two years of simply using September 5th as the holiday, the first Monday in September was designated as the official "workingmen's holiday."

This isn't to suggest that Labor Day didn't face its detractors. On September 4th, 1887, the New York Times published a scathing article titled "Labor Day and Idle Saturday" in which the author wrote "It is silly to set apart a day on which no labor is to be done as Labor Day." Nonetheless, the idea of setting aside the first Monday in September as a holiday for workers eventually caught on across the nation.

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