The history of Labor Day is quite bloody. The holiday was already celebrated in more than half of the US states when it was made a federal holiday. But the federal holiday came out of US Marshalls and military killing some strikers during the Pullman Strike.
President Grover Cleveland was perhaps a bit too aggressive in trying to get the strikers back to work and the violence resulted. Fearing more riots and public angst, Congress passed a law making Labor Day a federal holiday.
Today we recognize Labor Day as the last day of summer and not much else. In fact, while many of us do have the day off, our massive retail industry is fast at work. Big sales and lots of fall shoppers mean many people are at work on Labor Day simply because the rest of us aren’t. So do we still need a holiday that’s a paradox of its own creation?
I say yes. Labor Day is forever tied to labor unions which today carry less influence than they used to. But that’s because workers have now attained a lot of the rights people used to fight for. Today unions are largely fighting with employers that don’t have much money or to represent the interests of just their union members. For the most part in the US all employees today share the same basic rights. And that was thanks to the unions of yore.
So while the circumstances that Labor Day was formalized around are less than ideal, the symbolism remains and should get some renewed focus. And no retailers, that doesn’t mean some kind of “employee discount” sale.