Editor’s note: Today’s editorial originally appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer. Editorial content from other publications is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.
If you have a job and you’re among the fortunate to be off this Labor Day, you might be working anyway.
That’s according to a study, “Working Conditions in the United States,” released a few weeks ago by the Rand Corp. The report describes increasing stress in the workplace, finding that “American workers often work very long hours” and many, about half, “work in their free time to meet demands.”
The bump in time devoted to the job will come as no surprise to those who are “on call” 24/7 or those pressured to monitor things at the office through their smartphones and home computers. What is peculiar, though, is how the survey’s findings evoke the origins of Labor Day.
There’s no denying Monday’s holiday is far removed from its primary purpose as a celebration of the American worker. That’s understandable, though. Labor Day comes at perhaps the most transitional time of year. It’s punctuated by a host of beginnings and endings. Attention turns to the new school year. Football games begin to count, and baseball teams begin their push for the playoffs. Election season officially gets underway.
Abuse of the demand to “get to work” is what led to the creation of Labor Day in 1882. In the late 19th century, mill, mine, and factory workers typically toiled from dawn to dusk in hazardous conditions. It was common to work 12- to 14-hour days, six days a week. Fledgling labor unions recognized the importance of leisure and called for an end to insufferable work hours. The passage and enforcement of eight-hour workday legislation became a priority, and the enthusiastic support for shorter hours among workers served as the inspiration for a day dedicated to labor.
And if you like your weekends, thank Labor Day. The pressures of the Industrial Revolution provided for just one day off — Sunday. In 1884, when union officials decided it would be best to “observe the first Monday in September of each year as Labor Day,” employees experienced something unique. They had two days in a row off. The “weekend” was born (for those who could afford to take the holiday off without pay). True, it wouldn’t be until the Great Depression that most industries, prodded by organized labor and the federal government, moved to a 40-hour workweek and a five-day work schedule.
The first Labor Day, on Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City was highlighted by a massive parade. Thousands of workers in occupations as varied as carpenters, dress- and shirt-makers, bricklayers, jewelers, and cigar-makers participated.
As many people gather this weekend for a final outdoor barbecue or travel to share time with family and friends, they are actually in the spirit of what the holiday’s founders intended. The first Labor Day ended with marchers and spectators making their way to Elm Park, the city’s largest beer garden, to enjoy lager, picnic lunches, games, dancing, singing and fireworks.
As the digital age lengthens the workday and shrinks the weekend, many American workers are looking for ways to escape. Here’s an idea to consider — at least on a day “off.” In the cult classic film “Office Space, programmer Peter Gibbons, who is disgusted with his dealings with corporate bureaucracy and with working on Saturdays, is asked by a friend what he would do if he had a million dollars. “Nothing,” he responds. “I would relax ... I would do nothing.”
That sounds like the perfect way to celebrate Labor Day.