Holidays in the U.S. tend to become commercial excuses for sales and holiday parties. The big three during the summer, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day have become three-day weekends used as an excuse to grill burgers and drink.
Labor Day stands out just due to its unusualness in American culture. A day to honor workers. Imagine that. Despite the fact that hundreds of millions toil in jobs that may lack glamour, but put a roof over people’s heads and food on their tables, labor labors under a second-class status, compared to other much more highly-compensated occupations.
The anomalous nature of Labor Day highlights the odd status of workers in this country, and how the struggle for worker’s rights has been long and arduous. From the Haymarket Riot in 1888 to demands for a $15 per hour minimum wage, workers in this country have had to fight for their rights, first to obtain them and then to maintain them.
While Congress and the New York legislature can pass laws and the administrative labor departments can create regulations that govern much in employment law, a great deal of law is made in the court room, where aggrieved workers struggle with their attorneys to vindicate their rights.
The two are complementary, but function very differently. Legislation deals in broad-brush strokes, delineating the overarching issues, but often with significant gaps. It is in individual discrimination cases where particular facts are examined in relation to the broad laws and regulations. In that detail, what is meant by those laws is teased out and made real.
Workers may believe there is little they can do to shape policy and change the law. But Labor Day and its legacy, including everything from the 40-hour work week and child labor laws to Fair Labor Standards Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, have been the result of workers collectively and individually standing up to prevent unfairness in the workplace.
Source: theatlantic.com, “A 2015 Labor Day Reading List,” Matt Thompson, September 7, 2015