For most Americans, the long weekend is a great chance to reconnect with friends and relatives, and it offers one last hurray before fall begins.
Joshua Freeman, a union historian and instructor emeritus at the Local University of New York, told CNN that the holiday developed as unions began to take hold again after the recession of the 1870s.
In New York City, 2 events converged that contributed to the formation of Labor Day, says Freeman. First, the now-defunct Central Workers Union was formed as an «umbrella body» for unions of all branches and ethnic teams. In addition, the Knights of Labor, then the largest national union convention, held a convention in the city, complete with a massive parade. However, the parade fell on a Tuesday in early September, and several workers were unable to attend.
The convention was a great success and unions across the territory began holding their own labor celebrations in early September, mostly on the first Monday of the month.
At first, «participating was a little daring, because you could get fired,» Freedman said. However, over time, states began to recognize the holiday and it became more common for employers to grant their employees the independent day.
It wasn’t until June 28, 1894, that Congress passed a law calling the first day of September a legal holiday called Labor Day.
Freeman argues that earlier that year, President Grover Cleveland sent the battalion to crush the Pullman train strike. Cleveland pushed legislation to recognize Labor Day just days after the strike ended, in a «gesture toward organized labor,» Freeman said.
What Labor Day means
At the time Labor Day was formed, unions were fighting for «very specific improvements in their working conditions,» Freeman said. Workers were fighting hard for the eight-hour work day most workers enjoy today. And Labor Day was an opportunity for them to come together to discuss their priorities — and for the country to acknowledge the contributions workers make to society.
But there was also a more radical political thread to the Labor Day celebration, Freeman says. The Knights of Labor were exploring the idea that «what we call the capitalist or industrial system was fundamentally exploitative,» he said. «It introduced kind of inequities and inequalities, not just in wealth, but also in power. So they wanted a greater say in society for working people.»
«Back when Labor Day began, there were a lot of voices that were fundamentally challenging this emerging system,» Freeman added. Labor leaders at the time advocated for alternatives to the «capitalist wage system,» like collective ownership of corporations or socialism.
The evolution of Labor Day
But eventually, Labor Day began to be seen as the more «moderate» of the two holidays, in comparison to May Day, which was originally established by the Marxist International Socialist Congress.
«By the turn of the 20th century, calls for transforming American life, they pretty much disappear from Labor Day,» Freeman said. «As more and more employers began to give all their workers the day off, it became less associated specifically with unions.»
After World War II, Labor Day celebrations had a brief revival, especially in cities like Detroit and New York City. But by the 60s and 70s, they had tapered off again.
«I think most people just think of as the end of summer holiday,» Freeman said. «It’s not really associated with its origins that much.»
Can you wear white after Labor Day?
You might have heard the outdated rule that you shouldn’t wear white after Labor Day.
But don’t worry: There’s no fashion police out there waiting to see if you don a white shirt in September. And the idea actually has a pretty problematic origin.
«As you got more and more sort of ordinary people, whether middle class or lower middle class, being able to have enough money to try to dress fashionably, then there become more rules so that the more upper class people can say ‘yes, but you’re doing it wrong,'» Steele told CNN.
White was tied to summer vacations — a privilege only few could afford. Labor Day represented the «reentry» into city life and the retirement of white summer clothes after a summer of leisure for the upper classes, Steele says.
But the arbitrary rule all but disappeared during the 1970s, Steele says. The 1960s «Youthquake» allowed young people to challenge old stylistic norms, including the Labor Day rule.
«It was part of a much wider anti-fashion movement,» said Steele.
What does Labor Day mean?
Once Labor Day was introduced, unions fought for “pretty concrete improvements in their working conditions,” Freeman said. Workers were fighting hard for the 8 hour union day that most workers enjoy today. And Labor Day was a time for them to come together to discuss their priorities and for the territory to recognize the contributions workers make to society.
However, there was also a more extreme political thread to the Labor Day holiday, Freeman says. The Knights of Labor were exploring the initiative that “what we call a capitalist or industrial system was fundamentally exploitative,” he said. «He introduced a type of inequities and inequalities, not only in wealth, but also in power. In this way, they wanted more collaboration in society for the workers.»
«Once Labor Day started, many voices were raised practically challenging this emerging system,» Freeman added. Union leaders at the time advocated alternatives to the “capitalist wage system,” such as collective ownership of enterprises or socialism.
The Evolution of Labor Day
With the times, the extremist politics around Labor Day have moderated. Internationally, most nations honor working people with a holiday called May Day, which is celebrated on May Day, which also has its beginnings in the late 19th century and the struggle for the 8-hour labor day. For a long time, Freeman says, Americans celebrated both May Day and Labor Day.
Occasionally, however, Labor Day began to be observed as the more «moderate» of the two holidays, compared to May Day, which had originally been predetermined by the Marxist World Socialist Congress.
«By the turn of the 20th century, calls to change America’s life all but disappeared from Labor Day,» Freeman said. «As more and more employers have started to offer all their workers the independent day, it has become particularly less associated with unions.»
After World War II, Labor Day celebrations enjoyed a brief resurgence, especially in metropolises like Detroit and New York. However, in the 1960s and 1970s they declined again.
«I think most people just think about the outcome of summer vacation,» Freeman said. «It’s not really associated with his debut.»
Can you wear white after Labor Day?
Chances are you’ve heard the outdated rule that you shouldn’t wear white after Labor Day.
But don’t worry: no fashion police are waiting to see if you‘re wearing a white shirt in September. And the initiative really has a rather problematic origin.
The rule was one of many 19th–century style practices used to differentiate between the upper and middle classes, according to Valerie Steele, fashion historian and director of the Fashion Institute of Technology Museum.
“As more and more ordinary people, whether middle–class or lower–middle–class, manage to have enough money to try to dress fashionably, there will be more rules for that more upper–class people mention ‘yes, but I’m doing it.’ you’re doing it wrong,” Steele told CNN.
White was tied to summer vacation, a privilege only a select few could afford. Labor Day represented a «re-entry» into local life and isolation for summer whites after a summer of leisure for the upper classes, Steele says.
But the arbitrary rule essentially disappeared throughout the 1970s, Steele says. The «youthful quake» of the ’60s allowed teenagers to defy old stylistic rules, including the Labor Day rule.
«It was part of a much larger anti-fashion shift,» Steele said.