This year, Labor Day’s organizing roots are particularly evident with strikes and new union contracts

Labor Day, a holiday that has been celebrated for nearly 130 years, is approaching, and with it comes the customary sales and barbecues.

However, this year, the true activist roots of the holiday are becoming more apparent as labor unions across various industries challenge the treatment of workers.

From the glitz and glamour of Hollywood to the bustling auto production lines in Detroit, the labor movement has gained momentum and is reminiscent of the era from which Labor Day originated.

In a time of rapid economic transformation, workers find themselves grappling with a widening pay gap between themselves and the newly minted billionaire leaders of industry. This disparity echoes the stark inequalities witnessed over a century ago.

Todd Vachon, an assistant professor at the prestigious Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, underscored the historical parallels between the origins of Labor Day and the present day.

He pointed out that during the late 1800s, figures like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller held immense power and wealth.

Today, we see similar dynamics with Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos at the forefront. This period of transition and change is not only marked by the rise of these influential individuals but also by the resistance of working people who yearn for dignity and fair treatment.

Labor Day, once a simple tribute to the hardworking individuals who power our nation, has evolved into a symbol of the ongoing struggle for workers’ rights.

It serves as a reminder that despite our progress as a society, there are still significant challenges to overcome.

As we approach this year’s Labor Day, let us reflect on the historical significance of the holiday and recognize the importance of supporting and advocating for the rights of all workers.

Only through collective action and a commitment to fairness can we ensure a future where every worker is treated with the dignity they deserve.

In the midst of an era marked by increasing economic inequality and the erosion of workers’ rights, the significance of Labor Day has been revitalized.

This year, the holiday serves as a poignant reminder of the ongoing struggles faced by workers across various sectors.

From the writers and actors on strike, demanding fair compensation and better working conditions, to the intense contract negotiations that culminated in a new labor agreement for the 340,000 unionized UPS workers, the labor movement has once again taken center stage.

The resounding echoes of picket lines reverberate through industries, highlighting the collective voice of workers and their unwavering determination to secure their rights.

Labor Day, traditionally a celebration of the contributions made by the labor force, has now become a platform for highlighting the pressing issues faced by workers today.

It serves as a call to action, urging society to recognize and address the systemic challenges that hinder the fair treatment of workers.

As we gather to commemorate this holiday, it is imperative that we reflect upon the immense value of labor and the need for a more equitable and just society.


Labor Day, which is celebrated on the first Monday in September, has its origins in the late 19th century. During this time, activists and labor unions were advocating for better working conditions and fair treatment for workers.

The industrial revolution had brought about significant changes in the workforce, with long hours, low wages, and dangerous working conditions becoming the norm.

In response to these injustices, activists began organizing strikes and protests to demand better rights for workers.

One of the key figures in this movement was Peter J. McGuire, who is often credited with proposing the idea of a national holiday to honor workers.

In 1882, he suggested that a day be set aside to celebrate the contributions of the American labor force. This idea gained traction, and on September 5, 1882, the first Labor Day parade was held in New York City, with thousands of workers marching through the streets to demand better working conditions.

The event was a resounding success, and it marked the beginning of a movement that would eventually lead to the establishment of Labor Day as a national holiday.

Over the years, Labor Day has evolved into a day of relaxation and celebration, with picnics, parades, and various activities held across the country.

However, it is important to remember the origins of this holiday and the struggles that workers faced in their fight for fair treatment and better rights.

Labor Day serves as a reminder of the progress that has been made and the ongoing efforts to ensure that workers are treated with dignity and respect.

A broader push from organized labor had been brewing for quite some time, culminating in a pivotal moment during the deadly Haymarket Affair in Chicago in 1886. This event ignited a fervent demand from workers for an 8-hour workday, as George Villanueva, an esteemed associate professor of communication and journalism at Texas A&M University, highlights.

Recognizing the significance of this clash, May Day was subsequently established as a larger international holiday, serving as a reminder of the struggle for workers’ rights.

However, in the United States, there was a deliberate effort to create a separate federal holiday, partly driven by a desire to divert attention away from May Day. Vachon, an expert in labor history, explains that May Day had been closely associated with socialist and radical labor movements in other countries, prompting the need for a distinct American holiday.


Labor Day weekend is a highly anticipated occasion for millions of people, offering not only a respite from work but also a chance to partake in extravagant sales, bid farewell to the summer season, and embrace the tradition of wearing white fashionably.

However, the level of adherence to the holiday’s original purpose varies depending on one’s geographical location.

For instance, cities like New York and Chicago organize grand parades to honor the contributions of workers and their unions, attracting thousands of participants.

Conversely, in regions where the influence of unions has historically waned or never gained significant traction, such festivities are not as prevalent, as noted by Vachon.

The establishment of Labor Day as a federal holiday in 1894 coincided with a time when labor unions in the United States were grappling with significant challenges.

During this period, courts frequently deemed strikes illegal, resulting in violent clashes between workers and employers.

It was not until the enactment of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935 that employees in the private sector were granted the right to join unions and engage in collective bargaining.

Subsequently, various states began passing legislation to allow unionization within the public sector. However, even in the present day, not all states permit collective bargaining for public workers.

Over the past few decades, the prevalence of organized labor has experienced a steady decline across the nation.

In 1953, over 35% of private sector workers were unionized, whereas today, that figure stands at a meager 6%. The decline can be attributed to a multitude of factors, including political leanings in different regions.

Notably, states with a predominantly blue political affiliation tend to exhibit higher rates of unionization.

As of 2022, Hawaii and New York boasted the highest rates of union membership, followed closely by Washington, California, and Rhode Island, according to data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

These states have demonstrated a commitment to preserving the rights and interests of workers, fostering an environment conducive to unionization.

In conclusion, Labor Day weekend serves as an opportunity for individuals across the country to celebrate and reflect upon the achievements of the labor movement.

While the extent of these celebrations may vary depending on the prevalence of unions in a particular region, the holiday remains a significant reminder of the progress made in securing workers’ rights and the ongoing challenges faced by the labor movement in the United States.


Despite experiencing a slight decrease in percentage, the labor movement has made a remarkable resurgence and is once again at the forefront of national discussions. In the realm of Hollywood, screenwriters have been engaged in a strike that has persisted for nearly four months, surpassing the 100-day mark set during the work stoppage of 2007-2008, causing numerous productions to come to a standstill.

Negotiations are scheduled to resume this Friday, as both unions involved aim to secure improved compensation and safeguards regarding the utilization of artificial intelligence.

Meanwhile, unionized workers at UPS had threatened a large-scale walkout but ultimately approved a new contract last month, which includes enhanced wages and safety measures for employees.

Had the strike at UPS materialized, it would have had far-reaching consequences on the national supply chain.

Additionally, automobile workers recently voted overwhelmingly in favor of granting union leaders the power to call for strikes against Detroit car companies if a contract agreement is not reached by the September 14 deadline. In a similar vein, flight attendants at American Airlines have also voted to authorize a strike this week.

As Vachon aptly observed, this Labor Day will likely witness a heightened focus on labor-related issues, as the significance of organizing around labor rights has regained national attention. Workers are now courageously standing up and fighting for their rights, marking a significant shift in recent years.