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Made in the USA: The Evolution of American Labor


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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Sue September 01 2014 at 8:50 AM

My husband starting picking cotton at 6 yrs old, following his mother down the rows in the field. He has worked for a paycheck since he was 14. He never missed school, graduated, served in the Navy, and helped his parents out until they died. NEVER ONCE did he ask for or rely on federal assisstance. He didn't protest, steal, riot, or vandalize Now, this country subsidizes the births of illegitimate kids, subsidizes those who are NOT here legally, and subsidizes those who think that they are 'entitled' to a good living from those who do work. When people think that they are 'too good' to do hard labor, they aren nothing but trash!!!

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51 replies
illsell4u September 01 2014 at 8:19 AM

Labor Day, the day those of us that actually do work get a chance to relax like those of us that don't work do every day.

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19 replies
Gerard Redmond September 01 2014 at 8:32 AM

Make no mistake about it, fellows like Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and their ilk would like nothing better than to return to the way things were in the 19th Century with 8 year old children forced to work 14 hours a day in factories or "picking shrimp."

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53 replies
zombiestalkers September 01 2014 at 8:10 AM

Abolishing child labour was the stupidest thing we have ever done. Im not saying slave labor, Im saying kids should work from an early age so they don't end up sitting on their asses watching daytime tv and picketing like the lazy bustards in Ferguson. I worked on a farm. From the age of 7 I had chores--I don't sit around and watch daytime tv expecting a handout as a result.

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40 replies
billysue00 September 01 2014 at 8:49 AM

These people were not like the people today. They did not expect a government hand out Did not not have to worrry about gangs, drugs and their kids being shot outside there homes. They worked and had a home with food and stayed together as a family. They had love and family roots. Hard work never killed anyone. I have a dairyfarm and the cows demand all of your time. If you work and get used to working all the time it does not get to you. If you get used to laying around all the time you never want to work.

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51 replies
DanD September 01 2014 at 8:49 AM

Yes we have laws against "child labor", and unions were needed in their day, but one thing we have FORGOTTEN in the USA. We forgot that this country was "built" on hard labor of it's people, built on the sacrifices of many, and became the greatest country in the history of the world. SADLY we seem to be getting away from that philosophy, and have become of country of "entitlest" who rely on the government to support them, at the cost to others. There no longer seems to be a philosophy of the AMERICAN DREAM, that if you want something, WORK FOR IT....LABOR DAY!

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19 replies
lamsantosantos September 01 2014 at 8:46 AM

We should have more Unions protecting the middle class allowing people to have a decent life! Since Oligarchs and corporations want to take over the world! Politicians who are supposed to serve ALL THE PEOPLE are allowing this to happen when will it end!! No One should be Anti-Union!

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starglidur September 01 2014 at 8:48 AM

We ended child labor now we have millions of fat kids.

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16 replies
rockyglen70 September 01 2014 at 9:01 AM

Really, the 1880's are still being lived in China and the third world countries we have do our manufacturing. We don't want our kids working in sweatshops....but have no problem sleeping at night having kids from another country doing it for us.

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9 replies
oujoou September 01 2014 at 8:31 AM

That photo of that beautiful little girl is powerful as a statement about Labor Day. I think I understand the holiday better now. Sometimes visuals and a few choice words can be powerful. Aol. lol. What are the odds? Beautiful article. Well done. :)

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