Monday is Labor Day but the day has long been seen as a weekend in the United States. It has evolved over the years from a day of rest for working persons, to being viewed as the unofficial end of summer and the start of many schools and colleges.
It’s another holiday that seems to have lost a lot of its original meaning. Like some other holidays – Veterans Day, Memorial Day, even Christmas – we now view this as extended time off. In America, this weekend and Labor Day have very little to do with workers and labor.
This year is a different kind of Labor Day weekend because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The unemployment rate was 10% in July and lots of people are not working the way they were last September.
Many K-12 schools and colleges are not reopening normally. Classes are either online or limited with many precautions.
There will be fewer people at the beach and at backyard parties, this weekend and health officials fear that larger gatherings will create a spike in positive virus tests in the weeks to come.
Unrelated to the pandemic are the many protests and violence occurring in American cities. Coincidentally, the Labor Day holiday began with the Haymarket Riots on May 4, 1886, in Chicago. What began as a rally in support of striking workers escalated with a bomb and gunfire from the police, which resulted in eight deaths.
Most countries outside the U.S. celebrate workers on the first of May. May Day, International Workers’ Day, or Labour Day, is still a day of political demonstrations and celebrations organized by unions and other groups. But in 1894, a bill was signed into law in the U.S. making Labor Day the first Monday of September a federal holiday. The impetus for the date changed was to distance the holiday from the Haymarket riot and socialist May Day activities.
This year the weekend will be a lot less of a “happy” Labor Day and even less of a celebration of workers.